The Olsen name is not synonymous with good film. With efforts like How the West Was Fun, Mary Kate and Ashley have pretty much made a name and massive fortune on crappy movies geared towards a tween audience. Elizabeth Olsen, however, is a different story.
Yes, there is a younger Olsen. She's not a twin, but she just happens to be a fine actress. That evidence lies in Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film as complex as its title.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is the story of Martha (Olsen), a girl who escapes a cult and its leader (Winter's Bone's John Hawkes). However, the refuge she finds living with her sister is short-lived, when she develops feelings of paranoia that she's still being watched -- and perhaps followed as well.
Writer/director Sean Durkin's feature film debut is intriguing. That said, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an extremely slow-moving film. Apparently, cult life and its aftermath has a lot of downtime. However, it is a good film, with a wonderful, star-making turn by Olsen that should not be missed.
Its lead actress notwithstanding, Martha Marcy May Marlene is not a very attractive looking film. Home theater enthusiasts may scoff at the image presented here, and that's justified. It's a little grainy, with muted colors and black levels that are more on the gray side. All of that translates into a bit of a softer image that doesn't offer up a ton of detail. That said, this appears to be director Sean Durkin's intention, and it works in this 2.40:1 transfer.
Like the movie, the audio here is pretty muted. The DTS-HD Master Audio track does a nice job delivering the dialogue, which is often low, but also the main focus of the film. It seems like there should be a little more surround sound here, but the quiet also makes the film more sad and creepy -- and the film's occasional score seems to enhance both of those feelings. That's not to say that you won't get any goodies for the surrounds. There's a boat rumbling, birds tweeting, and a ringing phone that will make you jump.
Martha Marcy May Marlene features a surprising number of extras, given the film's limited release. There's a promo feature, something about the production, a chat with filmmakers, a piece about Elizabeth Olsen, and a few other shorts. However, the most intriguing extra is a short film titled Mary Last Seen. Written in a few days and filmed for $500, this is director Sean Durkin's prequel to Martha, with a look at how someone gets sucked into cult living.
Some may find Martha Marcy May Marlene to be a tough pill to swallow. The film is a little slow and sometimes confusing. Also, the audio and video presentation certainly won't win over Blu-ray fans. That said, writer/director has created a cult-worthy film, thanks to his star Elizabeth Olsen. Her performance alone makes this one worth picking up.