(Fox Searchlight Pictures) The younger and, until recently, less famous Olsen sister has those same doe eyes as her sisters, but hers have a depth that the older child stars lack. After years avoiding the obsessive attention that Mary Kate and Ashley claimed, Elizabeth Olsen steps into the spotlight with grace. She made her film debut last year with Martha Marcy May Marlene -- the independent film that catapulted her into the public eye and awards sphere.
Any movie with a cult involved can take the easy route out, with "loose" women, psychotropic drugs, and a decidedly loud, bacchanalian lifestyle. Martha Marcy May Marlene sidesteps these cult tropes and is instead a quiet, breathless film. Opening with a series of shots of a farm in the Catskills, Martha Marcy May Marlene showcases broad, sweeping fields, forests, and plains. A long, "Last Supper"-style table is filled with silent young people in modest clothes -- an eerie look at the lifestyle Martha has been living. In the middle of the night, she steals away, running briskly through the forest and finding a pay-phone to call her estranged sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson).
Martha Marcy Mary Marlene, like Martha’s perception of time, does not move in a linear fashion. Her mind jumps around from the social fumbles she makes with Lucy and her irritated husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), to how she came to live with Patrick (John Hawkes) and his “family.” Hawkes’ performance is particularly captivating as the manipulative cult leader. Rather than a ghoulish Charles Manson type, Patrick is just as stilled as the film’s cinematography. He moves slowly, sure-footed, telling Martha all the things she longs to hear.
Martha (Marcy May with Patrick, perhaps Marlene in her head) struggles with identity, time, and space, as her paranoia and confusion begin to take over. Periods of dissociation are punctuated with sudden blackouts, along with a kinetic soundtrack that adds to the terse tone of the film. Martha Marcy May Marlene marks writer/director Sean Durkin’s first full-length feature film, making Olsen not the only newcomer to receive such high praise.
From Toronto to Sundance, Martha Marcy May Marlene has been nominated for and won several awards, with special attention paid to Durking, Olsen, and Hawkes. It appears that Olsen’s undergrad theater degree and delayed rise to Hollywood’s indie upper echelon has paid off. Next, the 23-year-old actress can be seen in Silent House -- another thriller about a woman’s descent into madness. This horror flick will no doubt further demonstrate Olsen’s acting chops, as the film takes place in real time over one continuous take.
With a fresh talent at its center, Martha Marcy May Marlene brings an unearthly quality to the modern thriller. Although disturbing, the film is, like Steve McQueen’s Shame, an independent piece that addresses tough psychological issues in a raw, honest away. Each scene leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, wondering how unhinged Martha has become, and exactly what horrifying things happened to her. Those who missed it can catch Olsen’s debut on Blu-ray and DVD today.
For Fans Of: Memento, Vertigo, Black Swan
Why We Like It: Elizabeth Olsen, psychological thriller, awards buzz