Things that start out seeming like a commune can actually end up more like a cult in the end. The movie starts at that end, with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from it, and being pursued, which is a good way to know for sure that it wasn’t ever a commune. She’s been gone for years so her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) are pretty surprised to get her call, but they welcome her into their home though she keeps her past whereabouts on the downlow.
Lucy and Ted have a very nice life and an idyllic home, but Martha can’t really relax. She wonders if she’s far enough away, if she’s safe. She’s haunted by flashbacks of the cult that kept her captive. And Lucy is still a little hurt that her sister was just out of contact for so long – she might have empathy if only she knew the truth. But the two sisters have only each other for family, and now they’re struggling to readjust to each other. And truthfully, Martha is a little frustrating with the tight lip thing.
John Hawkes plays the charismatic cult leader who rapes the girls but then writes them a lovely ballad the next morning. It’s an interesting role for him. I love John Hawkes, he’s so unassuming but he’s got this massive range. In this he straddles this character, dangling him between ordinary Joe and insidious monster. And of course it’s the monsters who look normal who are the most scary, aren’t they? That’s how they catch you.
Christopher Abbott, Julia Garner, and the wonderful Maria Dizzia round out the cult cast, giving it some flavour, because not everyone gets to be the tyrannical messiah.
Leaving is hard. Staying isn’t easy. Sometimes it seems impossible to do either/or. Director Sean Durkin creates a real psychological quagmire; it goes down relatively smoothly but leaves a drop in your stomach so you remember – yeah, now that was a movie.