Martha Marcy May Marlene

DRAMA; 1hr 42min

STARRING: Elizabeth Olsen, Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes

Cult figure: Olsen

It’s easier to figure out why someone would join a cult — the sense of acceptance, the illusion of security — than to fathom how much damage is sustained while living a dictated life, and how much courage it must take to leave. The impact of two years with a new “family” is played obliquely in writer-director Sean Durkin’s disquieting Martha Marcy May Marlene, which moves seamlessly between the cult’s farm, where Martha (Olsen) is renamed Marcy May by dominating leader Patrick (Hawkes), and her rocky re-emergence into the Connecticut home of her increasingly overwhelmed sister Lucy (Paulson) and Lucy’s husband, Ted (Dancy).


We know Martha leaves the group of her own volition. It takes a deeper understanding of their sinisterly shared mindset — in which everyone and everything is common property — to appreciate why. This is a gruelling role with every scene an emotional demand and a dewy Olsen (the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, making her film debut here) has it nakedly mapped out. Only when Martha’s history has almost reached its end is it painfully evident how far she has fallen.