Directed by: Zal Batmanglij.
Written by: Zal Batmanglij & Brit Marling.
Starring: Christopher Denham (Peter Aitken), Nicole Vicius (Lorna Michaelson), Brit Marling (Maggie), Davenia McFadden (Carol Briggs), Kandice Stroh (Joanne), Richard Wharton (Klaus), Christy Meyers (Mel), Alvin Lam (Lam), Constance Wu (Christine).
Brit Marling is one of the most interesting faces in American indie cinema right now. Last year, she co-wrote and starred in Another Earth, a science fiction film with almost no budget that was more interested in ideas than special effects. Now, she has co-wrote and stars in Sound of My Voice, another film that some call science fiction, although perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. What is accurate however is that like Another Earth, Sound of My Voice was made for not a lot of money, and is far more interested in ideas than the typical Hollywood movie – no special effects here. Just a fascinating little film.
The film stars Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius as Peter and Lorna, an upper middle class California couple, who decide that they want to expose a cult and its leader Maggie (Marling) for the fraud that she is. They plan to pose as new recruits and clandestinely film the meetings for a documentary. This isn’t a large cult – I’m not even sure it has a name – and is really just a handful of people who meet in a basement, dress in white robes, and listen to Maggie’s story. According to her, she is from the year 2054 where a civil war rages, and food is scarce. She cannot leave this basement because the toxins in 2012 are too harsh for her body. She speaks in a calm, reassuring voice. It’s easy to see why people fall for her – she has an air about her that makes people want to please her.
Peter or Lorna are typical, entitled white suburbanites, leading hollow, empty lives. They are precisely the type of people who fall for cults in the first place – the ones who ask themselves “Is that all there is?”. But instead of falling for the cult, they decide to expose one. But it amounts to the same thing – they are no happy with their lives, and want something more – how much more, they don’t even realize.
The reason to see the movie is Marling’s performance as Maggie. She never gets worked up, never outwardly upset, never raises her voice. And yet she pokes and prods at her recruits – tests them by being openly hostile one second, and then comforting the next. She is trying to keep everyone off guard. Like Peter and Lorna, we think she’s a fake from the beginning, but she seems so sure of herself. Even when she’s asked to sing a song from her time, and ends up singing Dreams by The Cranberries, only one person openly questions her on it – and is promptly expelled. She is manipulative in the extreme, but like all successful cult leaders, makes everyone think they’re doing things of their own free will.
I didn’t much like the ending of Sound of My Voice, although I will admit I have no idea how else the movie could have ended. Yet it all seemed too typical to me – too calculated to keep the audience guessing even after the film ends. Like Another Earth, the ending is ambiguous – you can read it however you want to – but unlike that film, this ending didn’t work for me. Still, Sound of My Voice is another unique film for Marling – who has become one of the people you need to watch.