It is a simple premise: a young girl escapes from a cult and returns to the lives of her sister and her sister’s husband in an attempt to assimilate into a suburban world. But, through her attempts, she is haunted with nightmares of her memories and experiences, suffering from a past she seemingly cannot escape entirely.
Director Sean Durkin creates a powerfully tense and suffocating environment in which Elizabeth Olsen’s Martha drowns, under both anxiety and paranoia. It is with such subtlety and great depth of emotion that you feel everything Martha is feeling, that you’re immersed in the already great descent and dismaying isolation, and that there is little you can do despite great efforts. Elizabeth Olsen gives such a brilliant performance as Martha, a helpless girl in a world she has forgotten and finds seemingly impossible to adapt to under such powerful brainwashing. To express such an abused and broken person, and to encourage audiences’ emotional sympathy and empathy for such a hopeless person is a difficult role to have, much less control.
The story moves elegantly between past and present through Martha’s memories and struggles. The realities of a typical cult, and the frustrations of escaping not only physically but mentally as well, are weaved with great fluidity, keeping the slow patient pacing of an unravelling tension. It is a disturbing and emotionally exhausting place to be in.
With such slow burning throughout the movie, one would expect some kind of ending to tie everything up. Alas, it is quite a popular complaint from such an excellent movie that it would abruptly end. But, as confusing as it is, in retrospect it adds more to frustration among others in such a wide palette of emotions. This is a movie to experience once, as it can be emotionally draining, but Elizabeth Olsen’s performance makes the effort worth it.