Psychodrama, winner of the Directing Award (Dramatic) for first time writer/director Sean Durkin at Sundance 2011, stars Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) as a fragile young woman who escapes from a creepy, Manson-like cult and their charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Now playing nationwide, click for movie times and trailer.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a nervous condition suffered by shell-shocked soldiers and sex-crime victims, among others, and it’s marbled through writer/director Sean Durkin’s traumatic, disordered debut. Even the title denotes the slipping identity of its heroine, poor Martha (Olsen), who flees John Hawkes’ creepy cult to reunite with her sister (Paulson) and her hubbie (Dancy) at their lakehouse retreat.
Though she’s safe at last, it’s this anodyne aftermath that allows Martha’s memories of indoctrination and betrayal to bubble to the surface. A shot of naked swimmers shifting in and out of focus through the black waters of a river provides a striking analogy for the way her past and present constantly intermingle.
With no score but an occasional tinnitus ring, and its elusive, stream-of-consciousness storyline, the film has a woozy, disconnected feel that puts us squarely in Martha’s shoes. Sometimes Durkin strands her in the centre of a massive frame like a malicious Terrence Malick; sometimes he shoots her from far too close. It’s a testament to Olsen’s stunning performance that it withstands such scrutiny, particularly when Martha’s motives remain obscure.
Besides his weak words and forceful personality, there are no explanations for Hawkes’ allure – Martha and her fellow lost souls seem desperate for a leader, however toxic – and the character’s ultimate fate is forever in question. If you’re expecting a traditional thriller or character study, expect to be disappointed. This is a troubling portrait of how fear and abuse leave their tentacles in everything they touch – and a haunting one at that.