MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
DIRECTED BY T. Sean Durkin
STARS Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulsen
Make all the Mary-Kate and Ashley jokes you want, but don't dis Elizabeth Olsen. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, the younger sister of the Olsen twins delivers a breakthrough performance that will remind many of Jennifer Lawrence's excellent work last year in the similarly unsettling (though clearly superior) Winter's Bone.
Olsen stars as Martha, who's long been under the thumb of a cult leader (John Hawkes, even more menacing here than in the aforementioned Bone) but finally works up the nerve to escape. She goes to stay with her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulsen) and Lucy's husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), but since she's reluctant to talk about her experiences, the couple grow increasingly impatient with her odd behavior and violent outbursts.
T. Sean Durkin, making his feature-film debut as both writer and director, establishes a chilling mood in the fascinating flashback scenes detailing Martha's life in the cult community, but it's the prickly turns by Olsen and Paulsen that save the family sequences, which make up the less interesting and more frustrating part of the film. The ambiguous ending will be loved by many, loathed by an equal amount; I feel there were better ways to conclude the story, but I understand that it comes with the art-house territory.