November 1, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene - 2011

Director: Sean Durkin
Writer: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

After escaping from a brutal cult in the Catskill Mountains led by the enigmatic Patrick (Hawkes), Martha (Olsen) struggles to reacclimate to society, despite the best efforts of her sister (Paulson) and brother-in-law (Dancy).

Yet another spectacular independent film, and a debut from so many involved on top of that. One caveat: this is going to be a little hard to find; I only saw it because I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, and its second weekend of release only saw it in four theaters overall. Regardless, I feel the need to spread its gospel. Hawkes, who many recognize from last year's Winter's Bone, gives another stirring performance, capturing the essence of the typical backwoods cult leader figure. Paulson and Dancy are good enough to get by, though we don't really spend enough time with those characters for anything substantial to develop. However, the true shining point of the film is the performance of the youngest Olsen. While this isn't the first time she's been in front of a camera by any means, it's not only her first lead role, but also more substantial than anything her sisters ever did (combined or separately). Her actions are never over-the-top, nor do they seem unrealistic for someone in her character's horrifying circumstances. The writer/director makes excellent use of flashbacks in conjunction with match cuts, and the story of cult experiences unfolds surprisingly naturally alongside the reassimilation. The foley mix is a bit high in certain scenes, and one forest scene isn't lit well enough to see the actors' faces when you need to, but the film suffers little for its technical errors. A-

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