You need to watch the best cult thriller on HBO Max before it leaves next week
This psychological thriller about a young woman escaping from a cult has never been more relevant. Watch it now on HBO Max.
A young woman is trapped in a bizarre community where everything feels... off. At first, she doesn't want to leave, but as the reality of her situation reveals itself, she realizes there's no other choice but escape. From there, the movie's plot unspools as it explores both her life inside a bizarre cult and her struggles to adapt to reality afterward.
This might sound like the plot of WandaVision — at least based on the first two episodes and popular speculation about the Marvel streaming series — but it's also the premise for an underrated 2011 movie titled Martha Marcy May Marlene. Even better, they both star Elizabeth Olsen, making this the perfect watch while you wait for the next episode of WandaVision.
Lucky for you, Martha Marcy May Marlene is streaming now on HBO Max, but it leaves the service after January 31. Here's why it's worth checking out. (Before we go any further, it's important to note that this movie depicts a rape that may be triggering to viewers.)
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sean Durkin — who subsequently took a decade-long break before returning with 2020's critically acclaimed The Nest — Martha Marcy May Marlene stars Olsen as in its title role. Antonio Campo, who directed Netflix's recent hit The Devil All the Time, also served as a producer.
The film opens, somewhat surprisingly, as Martha is peacefully released from the cult after escaping to a nearby diner. She's calmy confronted by Patrick, the cult's leader played by John Hawkes, who tries to change her mind but lets her go. Martha then called her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and moves into the opulent lakehouse where Lucy lives with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).
In any other movie, this might be the happy ending, but like with WandaVision and its eerie suburban bliss, a peaceful home is just the beginning of something even darker. It quickly becomes clear that Martha has psychological scars that she's incapable of dealing with on her own but is unwilling to talk about one happened— one night, she quietly slips into bed while Lucy and Ted are having sex; at a cocktail party hosted at the house, she has a mental breakdown and shouts at a bartender.
Meanwhile, a series of non-chronological flashbacks reveal the horrors Martha endured during her time in the cult. We see how she was originally abducted and seduced by the promise of a female community with a few creepy male leaders. In one darkly lit scene, she's raped by Patrick in a twisted initiation ritual. Later we see Martha welcoming other new recruits and leading their training.
Martha Marcy May Marlene's fractured structure can make it hard to follow, but this only emphasizes the trauma its main character has experienced. By the end of the movie, you may be just as confused as Elizabeth Olsen's character. Don't expect the type of neat conclusion Marvel will likely deliver in WandaVision despite its delightfully bizarre beginning.
If you're looking for something to fill the time between weekly episodes of WandaVision, this is a pretty good choice. (It's also a worthwhile movie even for non-Marvel fans.) Just remember that happy endings are a lot less common outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is streaming on HBO Max through January 31.