'Martha Marcy May Marlene': What the Critics Are Saying

Drew Innis/Fox Searchlight

One calls the Fox Searchlight thriller "mesmerizing," while another writes that it does not achieve "quite the emotional impact it intends."

Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film about a young woman who escapes an abusive cult, may have a tounge-twister of a title, but that hasn't stopped the critics from expressing themselves about the Fox Searchlight thriller.

The film stars the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth Olsen, who has been receiving good – and some great -- reviews overall for her performance. The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where first-time feature director Sean Durkin took home the U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama.

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Many critics praised the film for Olsen’s performance, as well as its ability to set a mood and speak even in the most silent of moments. Some critics, however, felt that the tools used to create emotion were too often tricks instead of real treats.

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“Bypassing the celebrity minefield navigated since childhood by her big sisters, Elizabeth Olsen steps onto the radar as a seriously accomplished actor in this mesmerizing drama, which also marks an assured feature debut for writer-director Sean Durkin,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney.

“The film impresses most in its ability to sustain a mood of quiet dread, kicking up several visceral notches in the occasional stunning explosion of violence or verbal altercation. Right through to its ambiguous ending, the spell is transfixing,” wrote Rooney.

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“It's a sensational performance in a gripping psychological thriller, from gifted first-time writer-director Sean Durkin, that reveals its secrets in the silence between words,” wrote Rolling StonesPeter Travers.

Likewise, USA Today’s Claudia Puig wrote, “A study in restraint, Martha Marcy May Marlene shows that what is left unspoken can be the most unsettling message of all.”

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“The story hinges on a believable lead performance, and Olsen is mesmerizing in her first film role,” wrote Puig.

“The drama is all in the jumps and juxtapositions, rather than in any sustained consideration of Martha’s experience,” wrote The New York Times’ A.O. Scott.

“She remains a blank space in the middle of a film that is an impressive piece of work without achieving quite the emotional impact it intends. We are witnessing not the disintegration of a personality, but rather the careful construction of a series of effects,” wrote Scott.