Those who like their endings left open so that they can ponder and theorize about a philosophical story: Sound of My Voice provides a whole lot to mull over and analyze.
In Sound of My Voice we are confronted with an immediate question of faith, as would-be documentarian Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are brought into a local cult to meet its leader, the beautiful and mesmerizing Maggie (co-writer and star Brit Marling). The rabbit hole gets even deeper as Maggie reveals an implausible story to her new recruits: she claims to be a traveler from the future (2054 to be exact), sent back to gather those faithful who are ready to be trained in how to survive (both literally and figuratively) in the harsh era to come.
Peter and Lorna initially enter the cult’s ranks with the shared aspiration of exposing Maggie as a fraud; however, as they become more involved with the group, Maggie’s alluring charisma and unnerving insight begins to lace Peter and Lorna with doubts about her fraudulence, their own relationship, and even their views of who they are as people.
Sound of My Voice is the first feature-length film by writer/director Zal Batmanglij, and covers much of the same terrain as The Recordist, a short film which marked his first collaboration with Marling. The pair seem most concerned with telling open-ended stories shaded with familiar sci-fi concepts, presented in grounded ways that leave the philosophical quandaries wide open without the necessity for elaborate (or arbitrary) effects or sequences. Of course, fans of the genre who like the aesthetic pleasures of spaceships, aliens, flashy time portals or futuristic technology aren’t going to find much to enjoy in what is ostensibly a stripped-down indie movie with a sci-fi premise.
Batmanglij and Marling’s approach to storytelling is sure to be even more divisive, as much of the film focuses on scenes of the cult gathered together in the basement, as Maggie offers heavy-handed (and often gross) sermons. She claims that hers is a future in which there is no room for self-deception, excess, illusions of luxury or the crutch of technology – basically a reverse method of critiquing (or even admonishing) the times we live in, and all the misguided things that we believe. Therein lies the real “point” of Sound of My Voice: to serve as a word of forewarning about the wrong path into an inevitable storm (society’s collapse) – and then, a roadmap for those looking for a new path (as hammered home by the moment when the title is referenced in the actual film).
It’s an interesting approach to a sci-fi story – but the film’s thematic accomplishments will largely be overlooked, as most viewers will likely focus on their frustration with how the central mystery of the narrative (is Maggie from the future or not?) is left without resolution – as are the subplots and dangling threads the movie also introduces. These “dropped balls” include two side-stories that run parallel to the main narrative: one involving a little girl at the school Peter teaches at, who continuously exhibits strange, obsessive behaviors; the other is that of a woman named Carol Briggs (Davenia McFadden), who arrives in town claiming to have knowledge of Maggie’s true origins.
Both of these side-stories are important, as they converge with the main thread to create the (sudden and cumbersome) climatic act of the movie – but again, by the time things pull together, most viewers will be frustrated with the fact that the finale only inspires more questions, without concretely answering anything.
To their credit, Batmanglij, Marling and lead actors Denham and Vicius manage to create a truly spellbinding atmosphere for the film. Marling is definitely the standout, effortlessly pulling off the combination of charisma, mystery, allure and sometimes frighting intensity that makes Maggie such a captivating character. If nothing else, Sound of My Voice proves that Marling is capable of breakout stardom – both in front of and behind the camera.
Those who like their endings left open so that they can ponder and theorize about a philosophical story: Sound of My Voice provides a whole lot to mull over and analyze. Those who are not big fans of being left with more and questions than answers, will definitely arrive at disappointment (and scorn) for a film that teased them with so much, only to leave them feeling cheated and confused by the end. Yet and still, Sound of My Voice is an interesting approach to indie sci-fi, created by some bright new talents. It may not be the pinnacle of Batmanglij and Marling’s work together (maybe that will be their already-in-production next film, The East?), but it’s a pretty solid introduction.
Sound of My Voice is now playing in limited theatrical release. It is Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.
Watch the trailer for the film below, or feel free to check out the first 10 minutes of the movie.
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