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Sound of My Voice

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I like low-budget independent films just as much as I do big Hollywood special effects extravaganzas. Most people will say that FX are necessary for an SF film, but I say the story is more important. Good actors working from a good script can fashion a film that is even more compelling because they don't have to compete with the dazzling effects. Brit Marling understands that human emotions trump CGI. Last year she was responsible for co-writing, co-producing and starring in two different Sundance Film Festival entries. The first was Another Earth. Sound of My Voice was the other, although it took longer to get a distribution deal. As with the first film this one had a very limited theatrical run, but is now out on Blu-Ray and DVD.

It is not a great film, but definitely worth my time to try and figure out. I think it will take a couple of more viewings to decide whether this or Another Earth is better, but right now I'd say they are even. Which is to say if you didn't care for AE or it didn't appeal to you enough to even give it a try, you'd best pass on this one too. It's ambiguous, even frustrating at times, and it moves at a fairly slow pace even though it is a very short film. It gets right into the story with almost no background information. Denham and Vicius portray Peter and his girlfriend Lorna, investigative journalists intent on producing a documentary about cults. How and where they found out about Maggie (Marling) is never explained. We see them driving around while reading instructions sent to them by an unknown party. They drive into a garage and close the door with the provided remote, are escorted into the house, told to shower thoroughly and dress in hospital-like gowns. Then they are blindfolded, put in another car and taken to another house. All they know is it is somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and the person they came to see stays in (and supposedly never leaves) the basement of the house.

Maggie claims to be from the future, 2054 to be exact. She doesn't know how she came to be here, nor why, but she has taken it upon herself to gather a few acolytes and teach them what they need to know to survive the coming bad years (civil war, famine, disease). It is easy for the journalists (and the viewer) to doubt her claims. First, she supposedly came back to consciousness naked in a bathtub of a motel room. She apparently suffered from amnesia and wandered the streets clothed only in a sheet until she was picked up by the mysterious Klaus, who is now a lieutenant in her entourage. She doesn't explain how she came to the realization of who she was and that she had come from the future, but she claims her immune system is deficient to withstand exposure to the current environment. Everything screams cult with a nefarious purpose (but what?), and yet you have to wonder why the time travel claim. Why not a near-death experience or some miraculous recovery from disease to invoke an aura of specialness?

The film is divided into ten short segments, and in each of them a certain premise seems to be presented, only to be negated by an action in the next segment. In a sense it is structured like what I think a cult indoctrination would be, with the participant's illusions about the facts confronted and then changed during each phase. Peter and Lorna have differing opinions of what is happening. He accuses her of never following through on a project, she fears he is being taken in by Maggie's machinations and wants to walk away. After an argument and break-up, another character enters. McFadden plays an agent from the Justice Department, who tells Lorna Maggie's real name, says she is wanted for bank robbery and arson. Lorna decides to help trap Maggie.

The ambiguity of this film is that for every reason there is to believe Maggie is a fraud, I can think of a counter argument to back up her claim. Unfortunately, it ends so abruptly, and it is unlikely there'll ever be a sequel. A major revelation toward the end could probably be explained away using cold logic, but I doubt if that explanation would convince Peter. Or me. Each viewer will have to decide for themselves.

 

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Director
Zal Batmanglij

Screenplay
Brit Marling
Zal Batmanglij

Released
April 27, 2012

Cast
Christopher Denham
Nicole Vicius
Brit Marling
Richard Wharton
Christy Meyers
Davenia McFadden

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray