“Martha Marcy May Marlene” isn’t some adorable story about a family with an obsession with first names that start with the letter M. It’s a story of one girl who goes by different names when necessary. Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, also known as Marcy May or Marlene, a young girl who escapes life at a modern cult. During the film, we watch her try to adjust to a normal life with her sister and her sister’s husband after living in such strange conditions.
Olsen, whose most famous role until now was just being the younger sister of the infamous Mary Kate and Ashley, carries the film with an incredibly brave and emotional performance. She draws the viewer into her character’s frailty and damage right from the moment she first seeks rescue from the cult. She easily produces the most talented performance we’ve seen from any Olsen sibling.
The cult aspect of this film is definitely the creepiest but most interesting. John Hawkes, fresh from an Oscar nomination for last year’s “Winter’s Bone,” plays the charismatic “family” father as he watches over a group of younger boys and girls who have joined this unique lifestyle.
The construction of the movie, constantly jumping back and forth between the cult family and her real life family is meticulously written. Each scene informs the next, as the audience gets drawn deeper down into the emotional rabbit hole of Martha’s psyche in one of the most thrilling and unexpected movies of the year.