It’s hard to imagine a world in which Elizabeth Olsen isn’t a household name in residences where superhero movies are the cinema fare of choice, but sure enough, Olsen didn’t begin acting in films until 2011. That year, she made a major splash as the title character in writer-director Sean Durkin’s dramatic thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Olsen’s character is a 22-year-old woman named Martha who’s dubbed “Marcy May” by cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) when she joins the ranks, and who knows women in the abusive cult use the code name “Marlene Lewis.” After she flees from the cult, tearing through the woods of the Catskill Mountains, Martha reunites with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy’s husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), who take Martha to their Connecticut home where she’ll be safe. Unfortunately, the darkness of Martha’s past doesn’t disappear so quickly. Her behavior becomes erratic, and the audience learns more and more about what Martha endured during her time in the cult — and before then, too.
Martha Marcy May Marlene has been regarded as both a “slippery thriller about fugitive states, and not knowing where you belong, or even who you are” (via The Daily Telegraph) and an “implacably creepy little thriller” that shows just how talented Olsen is.