Sean Durkin’s new psychological drama, “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” is infectiously tense, powerfully mirroring the inner conflict of its character’s suffering.
Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, a runaway who reunites with her estranged older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Through flashbacks, it’s revealed that Martha was a part of a cult led by the unhinged Patrick (John Hawkes), who renamed her Marcy May as a part of her indoctrination. Now free, her relationship with Lucy and Lucy’s husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) becomes strained.
Durkin’s skill as a filmmaker lies in his ability to take the power of this trauma and transmit it to the audience through effective imagery. The strength of his script does not lie in the dialog, which, while terse, feels unnatural. Rather, it is when Durkin is at his most observational — with long single shots and minimal speaking — the cinematography itself parallels the traumatized state of its protagonist.
Olsen’s performance is withdrawn, relying mostly on body language to portray a character whose silence betrays a deep desire to lash out at those who have harmed her. She carries the weight of a character trapped between the world of the present and the world of dark memories.
The interplay between Durkin’s direction and Olsen’s performance makes this film a chilling experience.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” was directed and written by Sean Durkin.
3 out of 4 stars.