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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': The Captivating Tale of a Young Cult Member’s Desperate Liberation

Movie poster for the film Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011) is a sublime and evocative psychological thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a 22 year-old member of a enigmatic cult situated in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. Renamed “Marcy May” by the denomination’s charismatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes), Martha ultimately flees her oppressors and seeks refuge with her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson).

Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) provide safe haven in their rural Connecticut vacation home, yet Martha remains unduly haunted by her experiences—flashbacks illuminating her horrific memories of rape, criminality and murder. Ultimately these ghastly impressions lead to increasingly erratic behavior on Martha’s part, as she becomes convinced that Patrick and his disciples are surreptitiously closing in on her. Written and directed by independent filmmaker Sean Durkin (co-founder of Borderline Films), “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a gripping tale of psychological manipulation and cognitive degeneration, highlighted by a uniquely captivating Olsen (in her screen debut). A head-scratcher of a climax notwithstanding, it’s a thoroughly arresting suspense story that keeps the viewer guessing the truth behind Martha’s worst fears right up to its final moments...


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