You pray for movies like Sound of My Voice. Movies that are smart and nuanced. Movies that embrace their limitations. Movies that play with big ideas and that use science fiction concepts to talk about real, tangible human things. Movies that feature breathtakingly good performances.
If you weren’t at Sundance or SXSW last year you saw Brit Marling’s OTHER scifi movie, Another Earth, before Sound of My Voice. I consider myself lucky that it was the other way around for me. While I strongly disliked Another Earth, I was totally swept up in Sound of My Voice’s ethereal oddness and softly realized threats. And most of all I fell immediately for Brit Marling, whose strength and intelligence shines through in her SOMV role in ways that it didn’t in Another Earth.
In SOMV she is Maggie, the mysterious leader of a seemingly harmless, low rent cult that operates out of a basement in LA’s Valley. Maggie is vulnerable, breathing pure oxygen and sometimes being held up by her cultists, but she also has an iron will of authority within her. She is playful, but she has a mission. And Marling’s beauty and devouring presence make Maggie’s powers of persuasion very easy to believe... and feel.
Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius are Peter and Lorna, journalists who also happen to be lovers, and they decide to infiltrate Maggie’s cult to get to the center of it all. What they discover is that Maggie claims to be from the future, a sort of Kyle Reese in white robes, who has come to the modern day to warn us of terrible events to happen. She is training her people in self-defense and survival, all the better to make it through the post-apocalyptic horrors yet to be unleashed.
But is she telling the truth? Is she delusional? A scam artist? Or something stranger? Maggie has plans within plans, and there’s a little girl she seems overly interested in. As Peter and Lorna get deeper these questions jostle with the impact Maggie has on them - especially Peter, who finds himself falling for the beautiful mystic.
And who wouldn’t? Like Another Earth, Brit Marling co-wrote this movie, but perhaps it’s her co-writer (and director) Zal Batmanglij who is the support she needs. Where Another Earth was tedious and pretentious, Sound of My Voice slowly and quietly unsettles. This is a very low budget film, but smart writing and tension don’t cost much, and Batmanglij expertly paces the movie out, keeping you forever guessing. There are a number of scenes that he agonizingly stretches out and then pays off with wonderful emotional beats. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so on the edge of my seat during a scene where a guy has to throw up before I saw Sound of My Voice.
Sound of My Voice kept me anxious, kept me guessing, but most of all it kept me enthralled. The focus on the world of the cult gets you just as locked into their mindset as actually attending meetings. The film slowly indoctrinates you, leaving you feeling slightly mixed-up when it's all over. This isn’t Martha Marcy May Marlene 2, but the ending will send you from the theater talking and arguing about what has happened and what it all means. You may find yourself a dedicated follower of Maggie in the end.
I know I am.