Mary-Kate and Ashley had better watch their backs -- there’s a new Olsen girl on the scene.
Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister to the most famous twins in America, makes her feature-film acting debut in the Sundance award winner "Martha Marcy May Marlene," and it's the type of performance sure to garner awards recognition and lots of attention. Call it the Jennifer Lawrence phenomenon.
Just like Lawrence, who came to Sundance last year with "Winter’s Bone" and ended up with an Oscar nomination in the bag, Olsen hit this year's Sundance as a complete unknown and emerged as a bona fide awards contender. In a year with a slew of promising female newcomers ("Pariah" star Adepero Oduye, "Another Earth" wonder Brit Marling), she lost the Sundance Best Actress prize to another breakout, Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy"); but there was no denying that this year would mark a huge one for the talented beauty.
In "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Olsen gives a revelatory turn as Martha, a young woman who flees an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains for mysterious reasons. Those reasons manifest themselves once she finds herself at her sister's luxurious Connecticut lake house, where Martha begins having flashbacks to the horrors she was subjected to at the hands of the cult's fearsomely enigmatic leader, Patrick (John Hawkes).
Also Check Out: NextFactor: 'Martha Marcy' Star Elizabeth Olsen
This slow burner of a thriller from rookie director/writer Sean Durkin (he won the Best Director prize at Sundance) doesn't revel in loads of exposition to get its story across. Throughout, Martha remains an elusive character whose intentions for succumbing to the life of a cult are never made clear. Instead, Durkin challenges you to fill in the blanks and make what you will of his troubled protagonist.
Durkin's deft strategy works wonders. By keeping his tale and leading lady mysterious, "Martha" takes on a psychological horror bent sure to rattle your nerves to the core.
He’s also helped immensely by Olsen, a startlingly naturalistic performer. Both she and Durkin ground what could have been a sensationalist story and succeed in making it real.
You won’t quite know what hit you by the end of "Martha." All we know is that Durkin has a winner in Olsen, and a winner of a debut film.