Martha Marcy May Marlene
w/director Sean Durkin live via Skype
Where: The Belcourt
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight; opens today
"It really did feel like making two films," Elizabeth Olsen says. If only a viewer watching her new movie, Martha Marcy May Marlene, felt the same certainty she did when making it — the reassurance of knowing, from moment to moment, exactly where and who you are.
To the credit of Olsen, and writer-director Sean Durkin, their immensely unsettling new feature takes that comfort off the table almost immediately. A psychological thriller whose most effective technique is sudden and jarring dislocation, and a character study in which the crucial element of identity is severely disrupted, Martha Marcy May Marlene made a huge impression last winter at Sundance, where Durbin took top honors as director and Olsen announced herself, in her first starring role, as a fierce and fearless talent.
The story is relatively simple — though despite the coverage the movie's already received, we suggest you stop reading if you're going to see it (and you should). After two years missing, a stoic, inscrutable girl reaches out, without explanation, to her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy). The word "cult" is never uttered by anyone in the movie — certainly not by the traumatized girl, which would require a self-awareness that we learn has been deliberately, methodically stripped from her. But the film opens in medias res, culminating in what looks like her escape from some kind of rural compound.
To say she escaped, though, is technically accurate but not completely true. Because escape implies that you got away ...