|John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Louisa Krause, Christopher Abbott, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011|
Word of mouth spreads only so far, until sheer talent and vision can only complete the circle of shit. Sean Durkin's directorial debut is one of the year's very best, a shadowplay of melodrama and nightmare, which unveils a fragile, mesmerizing young actress named Elizabeth Olsen, inhabiting a perplexing young woman torn between cult and family. It's one of the best performances of the year.
Durkin's low-gloss, rural indie-private hell ingests elements of Antonioni, Polanski, Loden, and Wiseman, shooting them back out as a Bergmanesque backwoods shocker. Durkin's gift is insurmountable in his exhilerating grasp on narrative as a whole. Unifying theme with vision, he bravely tackles insanity and phenomenon of the cult, in a fragmented, shivery mindmelt.
Olsen is putty in his hands, but allows herself enough of a core to stand on her own. Who is this woman? Is she an innocent girl? Is she insane? Is she real? The very notion of the cinema is called to the fore by the daring Durkin. His secondary cast is wonderful, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbett are all memorable, but special mention is due John Hawkes (Deadwood, Winter's Bone), who, although it would appear that he has cornered the market on sleazy rural indie flick creeps, is truly chilling as the Catskill cult leader.
The film's best scene occurs when, the sun setting, the cult has gathered around in the barnyard. Hawkes, as Patrick, begins strumming his guitar and dedicates an eerie ballad to "Marcy Mae". Durkin focuses on Olsen's dusky face as her eyes tremble, the music questioning her identity. Her face wastes away in the wan light, and the identification of a woman ia accurately sung by Patrick (Hawkes): she is just a picture.