There's been a lot of buzz about Elizabeth Olson's performance in the new independent film, Martha Marcy May Marlene (try saying that five times fast), and for good reason. I don't know if that stems from the fact that her sisters are Mary Kate and Ashley - so who could really expect that much? - or if she just gives that great a performance. Probably a little of both.
Olson stars as a young woman who has just escaped a cult and is staying with her sister. The movie tracks her attempt to acclimate back to regular society, as her psyche plays games on her. Martha Marcy May Marlene tries to extract thrills from the disorienting flashback structure - what's real? What's imagined? What's simply a dream? This is the kind of story device that throws reviewers into a tizzy, praising it as smart and complex. I won't go that far.
The parts of the movie that focus on the cult are certainly interesting, and Academy Award nominee John Hawkes (Deadwood, Winter's Bone) is fantastic as the creepy/magnetic cult leader. I think there's still a great movie to be made about how one falls into a cult, how the cult operates, and how it takes its toll on a person.
Martha Marcy May Marlene covers most of that, but it doesn't do anything too surprising and doesn't go that deep. The drama here is pat and predictable. Olson gives it her all though, and nails even the toughest scenes. Her performance makes the movie worth seeing, even when co-stars Sarah Paulson (as Martha's sister) and Hugh Dancy (as the sister's husband) register one false note after another. The movie ends on a strong, foreboding note, which some will love and others will find frustrating. **1/2 stars out of 5.