(Film Review) Martha Marcy May Marlene

Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

Written and directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, and Sarah Paulson

Reviewed by Seth Rogovoy

Writer-director Sean Durkin, who deservedly won the Best Director award last January at Sundance for Martha Marcy May Marlene, wisely allows his actors’ faces to do the heavy lifting in this captivating psychological thriller balancing family ties against communal ones – in this case, communal ties of the Charles Manson-like cult variety (and loose family ties of the narcissistic yuppie generation). In his three lead actors he has an abundance of talent to work with, especially with the phenomenal Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the younger sister of the Olsen twins!), whose flattened facial features says as much about her character’s damaged, flattened affect as does anything else in the film (think Ingrid Bergman to Durkin’s Ingmar, and hope they work together again).

Her unlikely sister, played by Sarah Paulson, in contrast, is all surface anguish (much like her superficial, materialistic life), ridden with guilt, shame, envy (several times she practically complains how much prettier her sister is than she is), sloth, and lust, all of it written all over her face. And ever since his turn in Deadwood, John Hawkes (Me and You and Everyone We Know; Winter’s Bone) has been laying the groundwork for what promises to be a long, successful career as one of our premier character actors – think of him as the Harry Dean Stanton of his generation. Here he does a fair turn as a quietly charismatic but clearly demonically possessed Manson-type cult leader.

Elizabeth Olsen in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping if disturbing psychological horror film – by no means Hollywood fare, but by all means a great piece of independent filmmaking overflowing with masterful talent in front of and behind the camera.

Martha Marcy May Marlene runs at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington, Mass. through Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.


Seth Rogovoy is an award-winning cultural critic.


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