Many celebrate Halloween by watching scary movies. Not me. At the seventh-grade sleepover, I was the one in the other room flipping through Seventeen and pretending I didn’t care that everyone else thought I was a dork. I don’t like horror movies, because I don’t like being scared unless I am positive I will not die. So, roller coasters are OK, but I can’t watch “The Shining,” because there is a real chance Jack Nicholson will somehow kill me.
Besides, most horror movies are startling rather than scary, relying on gore and (effective) gotcha techniques. If you feel like really scaring yourself, check out “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which opens Friday. Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman who gets sucked into a cult that at first looks like a bunch of upstate New York hippies. The film moves masterfully between timelines, so the audience is kept constantly guessing about whether the main character is nuts or brainwashed or neither or both.
Unlike with most horror films, we understand why she goes into the basement, so to speak. The creepiness of the cult (and especially its leader, played by John Hawkes) sidles up to you in an innocuous way. It’s easy to imagine ourselves slipping into the thrall of this group, a community that captures Martha in a way that is truly scary.