15 August 2012

Review: Sound of My Voice

(Dir: Zal Batmanglij, 2011)

Sound of My Voice is the second indie film to come out in the last nine months that bears the strong presence of actress Brit Marling. As well as starring in the film she co-wrote and co-produced, the same responsibilities she took on in the excellent Another Earth, which saw its release late last year. Across these two films she has proven herself to be one of the most interesting young actresses working at the moment, as both films and the characters she portrays therein are fascinating.

Cults appear to have been a popular subject at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, with Red State, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Sound of My Voice all debuting there and exploring this strange world from very different angles. Sound of My Voice approaches this by focusing on Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) as they indoctrinate themselves into a small cult they’ve heard rumours about, in order to record and document for a piece of investigative journalism they intend to publish. Everything is secretive and mysterious and hinges around leader Maggie (Brit Marling), who claims to be not of this time and thus has knowledge that will help her followers survive what may or may not come to pass in years to come.

The whole film essentially hangs on the question of whether Maggie is genuine or a con artist. There’s a beguiling etherealness to her - she’s always dressed in white and speaks with conviction and gentleness, but at times tempers this with a pushy harshness. It’s up to the viewer to make their own mind up as to whether there is any truth here, whilst her hiding place and continual attachment to oxygen and other medical items help add an aura of authenticity/manipulation. The fact that you wouldn’t expect a leader of a cult to be an attractive twenty something girl makes the whole thing even more curious to observe.

Peter and Lorna take on the objective observer role for us. They’re total sceptics and Peter particularly, who is a school teacher by day, has reasons for getting involved and wanting to expose what they believe to be fraudulent craziness. Except as time progresses and their exposure to Maggie increases along with their involvement, as they need to continue to appear as credible disciples, you question how close they actually are to crossing the line. Issues in their relationship inevitably flair up and things reach a head, which is all fairly predictable but I still liked how it was done. I found both characters interesting and believable enough, as you see them being pulled in different ways.

The small independent low-budget nature of the film, combined with the way the cult exists in the basement of some mystery location, adds a sense of realism that makes you wonder how many similar groups exist hermetically sealed in their own mundane bubble without anyone knowing. Overall I liked how the film was put together and my only real complaint lies with it being a bit on the short side as I would’ve liked just a bit more. The ending could be frustrating for some but I think it was pitched about right.
I really liked Sound of My Voice. I can see it being quite a divisive film as it’s not exactly entirely original, but it covers an interesting subject and creates enough ambiguity to allow the audience to believe in whichever way they choose. The way Marling plays Maggie is key and she did great job creating a character whom you want to believe but common sense says you shouldn’t, whilst Denham and Vicius are both convincing in their roles. The exploration of belief is interesting, especially when it's presented through such a curious prism. On the basis of both this and Another Earth, I hope Marling doesn’t get swept into the Hollywood mainstream in a way that would diminish the potential for her to create further compellingly intriguing indie films.

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