How to Escape a Cult: Elizabeth Olsen, ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’

Thanks to Sean Durkin's mesmerizing direction and fascinating cinematography, this independent film is a unique, stubborn, and ultimately memorable film-going experience.

Elizabeth Olsen
I caught Elizabeth flirting with me... uh, I mean my camera!

Elizabeth Olsen is another emerging Hollywood star, trying to do it all, James Franco style: school (NYU/acting), multiple film projects, receiving awards. While Franco survives the ordeal of being trapped under a boulder in a Utah cave for 127 hours, Olsen too showcases her own unique survival skills; not too bad for an actress whose nascent career is enjoying its first lead role in the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene. And, yes, it’s one of those Olsens. Elizabeth is the younger sibling to the twins who rocketed to fame in the television series Full House, and reportedly built a mega-empire. But this is not family TV, and thanks to director Sean Durkin’s mesmerizing direction and fascinating cinematography, this independent film is a unique, stubborn, and ultimately memorable film-going experience (review).

Elizabeth Olsen
Can Elizabeth Olsen re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult?

We jumped at the chance to meet up with the starlet (who to my eyes resembles a young Sharon Stone) and headed to Rafael for the premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival. In this segment of Stark Insider TV, Loni hits the red carpet once again, but under slightly spookier circumstances. Why all the fuss? Why can’t we all just be happy together as part of our little “community”?

On what attracted Olsen to the multi-layered role: “It wasn’t just the role. It was also the intelligent script that Sean wrote,” she explains. “It’s a truly original structure and idea, and story to be told.”

We also get a sound bite from Durkin himself, now a hot commodity; his direction is most magnificent, and in many ways represents the antithesis of fast-cut, CGI Hollywood. His lens moves slowly, framing subjects as grainy artistic chess pieces. It feels like a 70s throwback without the Tarantino After Effects. I look forward to seeking out his future work.

Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Also spotted here on the scene is actor John Hawkes who many will recognize from Lost, among other television and film projects.

“Lizzie” could possibly represent fresh air for a town typically regarded as the hotbed for the affected.

“I got lucky that Sean wanted an unknown actress,” she says, then confirming that she really had no other jobs at the time.

Welcome to a saccharin-free Olsen.

Elizabeth Olsen
I caught Lizzie flirting with me... uh, I mean my camera!

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  • Greg

    Nice interview. She gave the best female performance of the year. And it’s the best “horror” film of the year. Definitely in my top five overall of 2011.

    • Thanks Greg. Agree with your assessment. It will be interesting to see how audiences deal with the somewhat controversial ending- it was the first question at the talkback at the MVFF premiere!

      • Greg

        I love the ambiguity of the ending! It leaves it up to one’s own imagination, which can be scarier than anything Durkin could have depicted on screen..

        • Yes – I’m looking forward to seeing it again. There were a few moments at the end (not to give anything away) that I didn’t get. Also the grain and soft look to the film was gorgeous. Durkin is one of the rare directors that’s not a tech geek and into his camera tech (as he mentions in outtakes in video) which I found unusual given some of the cool trickery he employs.