On the surface, this sounds like just another movie peeking inside a creepy cult that brainwashes, and psychologically and physically abuses women, and is led by a charismatic (and creepy) religious style figure-head. There are many similarities to the Manson-family story of which much has been published, but Mr. Durkin takes the film in a much different and very creative direction by concentrating on what happens to Martha (Olsen) after she escapes the cult.
In the Q&A, Durkin states he did much research and found the most fascinating story to be that of a cult escapee and what she went through during her first three weeks of freedom. Martha sneaks out early one morning and places a panic call to her older sister, whom she hasn't communicated with in two years. Settling in to the lake house with big sis and new brother-in-law, it becomes quite obvious that Martha doesn't know how to fit in society and has absolutely no interest in discussing her recent past.
The sister is played very well by Sarah Paulson, and her husband is Hugh Dancy (so very good in Adam). This seemingly normal yuppie couple is trying to do right by Martha, but the fits of paranoia, outbursts of anger, and societal goofs are just too much for them.
The genius of this film is in the story telling. The cinematic toggling between today and moments of time at the cult farm house leads the viewer right into the confused mind of Martha. We don't get much back story but it's obvious she was "ripe" for cult world when she was chosen. We see how Patrick, the quietly charismatic leader, sings her a song and steals her heart ... she wants so much to belong. We also see how she bonds with the other women at the farm house, and ends up in a situation that seems to snap her out just enough so she finds the strength to leave. The editing of scenes between these two worlds in outstanding and serve to keep the viewer glued to the screen.
Last year I raved about an independent film called Winter's Bone. I chose it as one of the year's best and it ended with some industry award recognition. I am not willing to say this film is quite at that level, but I will say that the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth, delivers an incredible first feature film performance and Sean Durkin deserves an audience for his first feature film as writer/director. Another bond between the two indies is that John Hawkes plays the cult leader Patrick, and Hawkes was a standout in Winter's Bone.
There will undoubtedly be some debate about whether this is cutting edge independent filmmaking or just another snooty art-house mind-messer. All I can say is, I hope the film grabs enough audience for the debate to matter ... it deserves it.