102 minutes, U.S.A., 2011, Colour, D-Cinema

This supremely composed combination of slow-burn thriller and in-depth character study won Irish-American filmmaker Sean Durkin a Best Director prize last year at the Sundance Film Festival. The title suggests some female ensemble affair, yet actually represents the fractured personality of Elizabeth Olsen’s troubled heroine. Looking for her own niche has seen her ensnared in a cult commune’s isolated Catskills retreat, where she’s primarily known as Marcy May, and mesmerised by the increasingly sinister group’s David Koresh-like figurehead (John Hawkes, last seen in Winter’s Bone).

As events unfold, Martha – her real name – escapes to the care of her sister (Sarah Paulson), whose Connecticut summer lake-house represents the empty bourgeois sterility she’d been trying to flee. This elegantly-mounted, sympathetically-acted film conjures up a telling undercurrent of dread that’s not just about the plot turning nasty, but evokes the terrifying limitations in American life if stepping off the consumer-career treadmill leaves so many traps for the unwary. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)

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