Now we know there is an Olsen with acting talent. It's not that the twins aren't talented when it comes to other pursuits, they just haven't really been bringing down the house in the category of recent and not-so-recent acting performances. However, their younger sister Elizabeth is one helluva find. She is unmistakably an Olsen, yet so much more natural and mature, you could be forgiven for thinking she is the older sibling. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, Olsen plays Martha, a young girl staying with her older sister while trying to piece together her shattered psyche after fleeing an abusive cult.
The film (the first from writer-director Sean Durkin) is something like a psychological thriller version of 2010's Winter's Bone. Typical of almost every Sundance Film Festival favourite, it wears it's indie colours proudly. The result may be a movie that's a little bit bare (literally and figuratively) for some, but Durkin does manage to employ a number of cinematic techniques which raises this film above the typical indie fare, and him above the typical indie director. One such technique, and my favourite aspect of the film (apart from Olsen's performance), was the editing. The back and forth narrative structure - between the past (Martha's time spent with the cult) and the present (at the home of her sister and husband) - is nothing new, but the editing between the two was terrific. Never too overt or clever, it added just that little bit extra to elevate technically above other indies.
Another highlight was John Hawkes who, looking wirier than ever, turned out a command performance as Patrick, the charismatic cult leader. One scene in particular, in which he sings a song for Martha, will stay with me for a long time. The only moment in the film that is burned deeper into my mind than that scene is the final shot. You need to see it for yourself.
8 out of 10