Martha Marcy May Marlene

Year: 2011
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Sean Durkin
Producer: Antonio Campos
Writer: Sean Durkin
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy

Despite the same near-glacial pace that affected its close cousin in tone Another Earth, this movie mostly deserves the indie kudos heaped upon it. You don't have to look very far to see reviews calling Elizabeth Olsen a 'revelation', and her performance is surprisingly good considering her lineage as younger sister to the Disney darlings turned trashy twins Mark-Kate and Ashley.

The film neither begins nor ends auspiciously as Martha (Olsen) runs away from a commune-like existence run by charismatic leader Patrick (Hawkes). She dashes into the woods that surround the farmhouse where her and her brethren live and finds her way to a diner where she calls her older sister Lucy (Paulson), who hasn't heard from her in forever.

Aside from being quiet nothing seems really wrong with Martha, but she soon starts showing telltale signs of a very screwed up moral compass thanks to what she's been through. When she goes to stay with Lucy and her husband in their idyllic lakeside holiday house, she strips completely naked to swim despite the kids and families around and, when she has trouble sleeping, sneaks into their room to curl up beside them even while they have sex.

She won't tell Lucy where she's been for years, but we learn through flashbacks that comprise half the story of life at the farmhouse. Patrick is a cult leader – seemingly loving but ruling the small community with an iron fist, issuing diktats according to his whim and ritually sleeping with (maybe raping) every new female consort.

It's all done with a minimum of on screen histrionics – there's little violence or even outright evidence of the abuse that's twisted Martha so badly even she can't see what's wrong with her – but it's an effective story about somebody who's gone so wrong they may be beyond help.

And like Another Earth, there's little sense to the final scene – there seems to be a frightening climax building, but the screen abruptly clears and the credits roll. Maybe all it's saying is that no matter what happens to Martha, she'll always be looking over her shoulder fearing what or who will catch up to her.

Paulson, Olsen and Hawkes command attention, and while it's worth watching the low pace and lack of emotion spilling over the banks won't be for everyone. It's still a little bit of a mystery why Martha was so frightened of what might come after her and so unable to talk about what happened to her (or even why she left in the first place) when she seems not the least upset about any of it.

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