12. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Director: Sean Durkin
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet

Ambiguity is the driving force behind first-time filmmaker Sean Durkin’s disturbing gem Martha Marcy May Marlene. In his unconventional character study, about a mentally uncertain girl (breakout star Elizabeth Olsen) trying to regain sanity immediately after fleeing from a dangerous cult, Durkin lays the puzzle pieces out elusively; it’s not until the second viewing that Martha Marcy May Marlene’s delicate nightmare and nuanced performances come together to yield something complete.

Even if the script’s lack of answers and neatly tied-up resolutions leave you cold, much like we’re sure Durkin’s hauntingly abrupt and enigmatic ending certainly will, the feeling of dread that engulfs Martha Marcy May Marlene is suffocating. Largely responsible for that intensity is Olsen’s all-in performance, a masterful balance of instability, paranoia, and fully earned likeability. Unlike the film itself, it won’t take multiple viewings for you to appreciate her skills.

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