7 out of 10
Elizabeth Olsen, yes the young sister of the Olsen twins, plays a character living in a “Full House” of her own, just what’s going on here is far scarier than Uncle Joey’s Mr. Woodchuck impression. She plays Martha, a young girl abandoned by her family who finds “togetherness” inside a farmhouse commune, which seems like a hideaway for young hippies led by the much older Patrick (John Hawkes), who christens her Marcy May. Every one is expected to do their part and adhere to strict rules, but there is a sinister side to this. Patrick is allowed to rape who he chooses (and has managed to convince the girls they’re lucky for having been chosen), he offers harsh lessons about becoming a “leader and a teacher”, and he pushes his young victims into home burglary (one ends in murder). Eventually this becomes too much for Martha and she escapes to live with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulsen), who has regret over not being as present in her sister’s life. Writer-director Sean Durkin transitions back and forth between Martha’s 2 year cult stint and her return to family life, detailing for us how her disturbing past has infected her present and her sister and brother-in-law’s (Hugh Dancy) sense of normalcy. Olsen’s performance is incredible, portraying a warped young woman oblivious to “normal” boundaries, paranoid that she will suddenly be tossed back into her “cult life”, and traumatized by flashbacks that disorient her. She nails the emotional distress and alienation, but also the defensiveness of a woman who feels alone in the world. Her scenes with Paulsen, whose Lucy desperately wants her sister to confide in her again, cut deep and Hawkes is a chilling back-woods villain. “Martha” is a slow-moving but compelling debut from Durkin.