First-time writer and director Sean Durkin should be proud. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a taut and deliberate psychological thriller that offers a look into a woman’s harrowing experience during and after her time with a cult-like hippie commune in the Catskill mountains.

Haunted by memories of a captivating John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen breathes an impressive life into her debut as Martha, a woman struggling to take control over an identity that’s been co-opted so many times she doesn’t even know where to start looking for it anymore. Durkin keeps his focus close and sets the majority of the film at the spacious lakeside vacation home of Martha’s sister, the only family available to her after a two-year cult vacation. Blurry, obfuscated picture windows and open lakeside vistas make the immediate background almost its own character in this film, taking on a threatening presence while Martha starts to lose track of what she remembers and what she’s imagining.

Lashing out at her successful English brother-in-law and doing exactly the kind of batshit crazy things that her uptight sister has no idea how to deal with, Martha pushes the buttons of a very real relationship; the arc with Lucy (Sarah Paulson) is one of the film’s most notable aspects.

Martha and Lucy have a rich and believable history, presented largely through the dialogue’s suggestion and implications. The screenplay is impressively lean and efficient, and this economy holds fast throughout the film. Despite its intentionally careful pacing, the movie is nothing more than it needs to be, with a screenplay that suffers only minor issues.

Durkin’s visual style and camerawork are similarly well executed. The cold and muted colors mirror Martha’s numbed and fractured experiences, and the direction becomes less and less stable as the story shifts seamlessly between past, present, memory, and imagination. Barring some passable inconsistencies, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tightly constructed and unsettling thriller. Maybe not quite first date material (for some reason, Elizabeth Olsen’s breasts have a distractingly important role in this film), but Sean Durkin’s first feature is a compelling look at the difficulty of coping with a compromised identity and begs to be seen with a pal and talked about afterwards.