Sean Durkin’s award winning (Best Director at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) directorial debut lands on Irish screens with quite a bit of hype to live up to. Rest assured it doesn’t disappoint.
Elizabeth Olsen, sister to Mary and Ashley Olsen and clearly the most talented of the bunch, stars as Martha a distraught and understandably unhinged women who returns to her sister (Sarah Paulson) after an absence of two years. What happened during those two years is the basis of the film and is skillfully recounted in a series of flashbacks while Martha tries to readjust to normal daily life in the lake house of her married sister.
The film unfolds slowly, taking its time to reveal the full picture of just what horrors and brain-washing Martha underwent as part of a seemingly harmless group of self sufficient farmers. The pace is excellently executed as you feel so unsettled, desperately craving to know what happened but ultimately terrified in finding out the next act of this unrelenting modern day horror story. The film is not a horror in the sense of gore or extremes, although there are two quite uncomfortable scenes to watch, but more so in its pacing, incredibly unsettling music by Daniel Bensi and co. and performances that imply the Devil himself has just appeared on screen.
The Devil in question is John Hawkes, he plays Patrick the alpha male of this band of waifs and miscreants. He gives a master class in all the elements necessary to manipulate and condition the minds of those who have fallen on hard times and find themselves lost and abandoned. Hawkes bares an uncanny resemblance to Charles Manson and expertly delivers the nonsensical philosophical drivel that Manson and his ilk spouted. With his role in Winter’s Bone a few years ago and now this, Hawkes is fast becoming the indie movie President-elect.
Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is outstanding, she must encapsulate so many different characters into the one role and does so with ease. Meaning you don’t question her for a second while she gives such credence to the raft of emotions one must feel having been through and survived the ordeal of a cult. The film also tries to question and examine what it is that compels people to return to those we know to be no good. Her relationship with her sister represents our relationship with Martha, like Lucy we are trying to come to terms and deal with Martha’s experiences and we understand the frustrations that she and her husband feel as they try to help her back to some sense or normality.
It’s not often that a film has my stomach in knots, makes me want to attack the screen when a character appears or leaves me so frustrated and anxious I can barely look but am so compelled I daren’t blink for fear of missing something. A must see masterpiece.
USA / Sean Durkin / Sean Durkin / Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy / 102min / Drama, Thriller / Release: 21 October 2011 (US), 28 October 2011 (Canada), 3 February 2012 (UK/Irl)