Martha Marcy May Marlene

Directed By: Sean Durkin

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy

Martha Marcy May Marlene.  That's definitely a tongue twister for a title.  It's actually a pretty good name for a film. When I first heard it, I instantly thought I was in for a good psycho thriller, and I always enjoy watching films about crazy people.  A peek inside the mind of a neurotic can never let you down on the big screen.  Sean Durkin's first feature film in the director's chair certainly didn't let me down.  It did far more than give us a peek into the title character's head; it gave us front row seats to the unraveling of an abused young woman's mind.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a young woman on the run from an abusive cult that lives in the mountains.  She finds herself in Upstate New York in a desperate state and turns to her big sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to whom she has not spoken in two years.  Lucy takes Martha to Connecticut to live with her and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).  As Martha is once again immersed in normal life, she finds herself emotionally and psychologically scarred by her past.  She has vivid dreams or delusions based on her horrifying experiences in the cult led by a man named Patrick (John Hawkes).  These dreams quickly begin blurring reality for this afflicted young woman, and her behavior becomes increasingly bizarre.

The biggest question of the film is whether Martha's visions of the cult is a dream or a delusion.  I would argue that they're a little of both.  Patrick certainly introduced true horrors into Martha's life while she was up in the mountains, but the happenings in the cult flow seamlessly into the real life events of the film.  Whether fixing dinner or diving into water, Martha's dream/delusional world intersected perfectly with the real world.  At the same time, Martha sleeps all the time during the film.  Either way, the fact that I can't quite distinctly define delusions and dreams in the film is a testament to the fact that director Sean Durkin does a phenomenal job of blurring the lines between reality, delusions, and dreams.

Given her famous older sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, Elizabeth Olsen has had plenty of minor roles in television and film during her childhood.  For her first starring role in a feature film, Elizabeth does not let viewers down.    Her performance as Martha/Marcy May/Marlene (depending on who you ask) is chilling.  I truly believed that she thought the cult had followed her to Connecticut.  From solemnity and fear to paranoia, she captures the full range of emotions Martha suffers as she struggles to deal with her tragic past and fails to stay grounded in reality.  With a great performance like this, Olsen has certainly proven that she has the acting chops to be a force in the film industry for years to come.

When you're watching a film about a crazy person, you usually don't need that much alcohol.  This holds true for Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Durkin's powerful, eerie psychological thriller gets a 0.03% rating.  A few wine coolers should do for this one.