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Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Personality crisis: Elizabeth Olsen
  • Personality crisis: Elizabeth Olsen

Sean Durkin's feature-film debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, is an exhilarating and disturbing psychological drama, performed by a cast of actors who get it. The title refers to one troubled young woman (Elizabeth Olsen): When the vulnerable Martha wanders into an upstate New York commune ruled by the enigmatic and mellifluous Patrick (John Hawkes), he begins his manipulation by telling her that she looks like a "Marcy May." The film opens with Martha's escape, and she soon reunites with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), New Yorkers on holiday in a house in sylvan Connecticut. As their story moves forward, Durkin flashes back to unfold Marcy May's "family" life in the mostly female cult, where Patrick equates death with love. Durkin is a nuanced storyteller: He eschews the sensational to create a palpable world of damaged souls, and for fleet moments now and then, you won't know whether you're in the past or present. The conflicts that unfold are about as close to the bone of human behavior as a film can get. The actors are superb, and the mesmerizing Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, is one apple who's fallen very far from her own family tree. Starts Fri., Nov. 11. AMC Loews, Manor

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