Martha Marcy May Marlene

Film Review by | 31 Jan 2012
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
Film title: Martha Marcy May Marlene
Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy
Release date: 3 Feb
Certificate: 15

Sean Durkin’s astonishingly assured debut as writer/director is a haunting meditation on identity, manipulation and abuse. Martha (Olsen), long-since assimilated into a creepy cult led by the charismatic Patrick (Hawkes), has escaped her captors and made contact with estranged sister Sarah (Poulson). Taken in by Sarah and her partner Ted (Dancy), Martha’s odd and uninhibited behaviour causes immediate concern.

Using a fractured narrative to unsettle and drip clues to the audience, Durkin adroitly intercuts Martha’s recovery with flashbacks to the trauma and indoctrination endured within Patrick’s commune. Hawkes is predictably outstanding as the seductive, menacing patriarch – his slight frame and magnetism suggestive of the psychosexual rather than physical dominance exerted over his charges. Olsen, ethereal under Durkin’s gaze and Jody Lee Lipes’ gorgeous cinematography, is masterful; by turns offering heartbreaking vulnerability, terror and naïve bravado to portray a young woman unsure as to who she was, who she is and what she will become. An ambiguous, beautiful film blurring the lines between reality, paranoia and fantasy. [Chris Fyvie]