Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Cult of Personality

Martha Marcy May Marlene      WWW Score: 94%  

Mary-Kate & Ashley - the Olsen twins - the richest kid stars in the storied history of kid stars but no amount of cash could get Hollywood studios to obliterate their prejudices against the pair thanks to classics like "Holiday in the Sun". Have no fears though - here to salvage the family's thespian name is the third Olsen, Elizabeth - the youngest of the bunch and a virtual lock for an Oscar-nod after her stunning performance in "Martha Marcy May Marlene".

The non-Olsen twin (a prettier Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays Martha - although that name morphs on the quick (hence the odd title). Olsen "looks like a Marcy May" to (a typically brilliant) John Hawkes, the cold-blooded leader of the cult that Martha/Marcy May finds herself immersed in when we first meet her character. What starts rather innocuously, becomes increasingly more unnerving as skilled first-time writer/director Sean Durkin gradually unveils a much more sinister side to Hawkes and his clan of servants - serving up one of the most shockingly chilling scenes in cinema of late.

Durkin deftly merges Martha's cult-member past with her present through a series of flashbacks and flash forwards. After Martha makes a run from the cult, she lands in big sis's (Sarah Paulson) lakefront home to detox - although she's utterly unaware of her dire need to do just that. It's that hangover of being manipulated by Hawkes that allows the tension to be ratcheted-up to positively terrifying levels - the culmination will undoubtedly leave a lot of folks unfulfilled but given the overall mood of the movie, it's not altogether unexpected.

Not since "The Wicker Man" (the original - not the Nic Cage abomination) has a movie delved into cult life with such an organic and foreboding fashion. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is superb - a disturbing psychological drama that's guaranteed to have more than a few followers come Oscar season.