Community ranks as key on the list of basic human needs. After water, food and shelter, our need to connect with others drives and defines us.
Like those infamous figures, Patrick (a pitch-perfect, pitch-black John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”) is a mesmerizing patriarch. This charismatic spider man sits quietly at the center of Durkin’s film, a sinister webmaster luring into his sticky threads those looking for safety, surety ... something. Using strategies of isolation, sexual domination, drugs and, above all, fear, Patrick renders his acolytes unable to see beyond the twisted version of reality he provides. Community becomes cult; believer becomes brainwashed.
Durkin explores Patrick and his community primarily through one individual, she of the title’s many names. Played with depth and subtlety by Elizabeth Olsen in her first starring role, this young woman was born Martha, renamed Marcy May by Patrick as part of the identity-stripping necessary for total allegiance, and required to use the phone-alias Marlene to snare more innocents and deflect information seekers.Brace yourself.
Lucy, who helped set Martha on the path to Patrick when she did not take her younger sister in after their parents’ deaths, clearly is not emotionally capable of giving Martha what she needs. Martha clearly is deeply damaged. Patrick clearly refuses to allow anyone the freedom to leave his clutches. A trifecta of trouble, to be sure.
The film builds a powerful sense of foreboding through Martha’s flashbacks to life as Marcy May as she attempts to break free of Patrick’s emotional and mental grip. Brace yourself for an ending that brings past and present together with a jolt, and offers little in the way of relief from tension: Durkin provides no neat, tidy ending.
However, he does provide a powerful, if occasionally heavy-handed, emotional journey through a dystopian world defined by the soul-crushing evil resulting from the ideal of community corrupted.