Sound of My Voice

I’ve wallowed in self-pity for a month or two now. There’s been nothing in theaters that’s really grabbed my attention. None of these blockbusters coming out lately seem to really get me excited to go to the theatre. I did end up seeing Hunger Games, of course, and despite my distaste for Joss Whedon, I even saw The Cabin in the Woods. One of those movies was great, the mother was kind of.. meh. Even my local arthouse theatre’s selection has been particularly uninspired (two screens showing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Really?). It turns out that I really just wasn’t paying close enough attention. There was a hidden gem that I nearly missed.  I’ve heard mention of Sound of My Voice on social networking sites and on a few blogs, but I never bothered to read anything about it. And I should have. Because this movie is awesome.

It stars actress Brit Marling. You may remember her from last year’s Sundance film, Another Earth. Or perhaps Britta’s lesbian date on Community. She’s a fantastic actress and is one that is certainly worth watching. She plays Maggie, a woman claiming to have arrived in our time from the future. She’s gathering followers in a cult that’s kind of terrifying in its placidity. Christopher Denham plays a man named Peter, who’s dating a woman named Lorna, played by Nicole Vicius. They’re normal folks who decide to infiltrate the cult to make a documentary, and hopefully save Maggie’s mindless followers from perhaps a mass-suicide à la Jonestown.

In order to become a member of the cult, Peter and Lorna must ‘prepare from the outside’ until they’re deemed worthy of meeting the messianic Maggie. Once their worthiness has been proved, they’re taken to the group’s meetings by being blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to a nondescript Los Angeles home. There, they’re instructed to shower (warned to be extra thorough with soap), given beige-colored clothing and then they’re taken to the basement Maggie calls home. There, in a terrific entrance, Maggie enters the room dressed in white, veiled, assisted by an oxygen tank–effectively establishing a faux frailty that makes her seem all the more dangerous somehow.  During these weekly meetings, there are menacing trust building exercises, extremely vague lectures, and one hell of a secret handshake.  There’s also the lovely touch of Peter’s real job: an elementary school teacher.  Terrifically juxtaposed scenes make the gentle comparison between his classroom where he’s in charge of molding minds, and Maggie’s basement gatherings.

Maggie is terrifyingly calm. She never raises her voice. And despite the chance that she’s a con artist, she’s wonderfully captivating, and, at times, quite impressive in her platitudes. One can’t help but wonder if the film would have been pulled off so well were the role not in hands as capable as Ms. Marling. In one brutally intense scene, Maggie grills Peter, exploring his emotionally-distant manor, she manages to bring the usually collected man to tears over possibly true allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather.  The tension at this moment is palpable and wickedly fun to experience.

The film was shot on a shoe string budget, and it brings a mildly gritty, and real feel to the film, all the while maintaining consistently high production values.  You find yourself getting lost in the cult’s momentum just as Peter and Lorna are.  There are a few problems near the end of the film, namely, an all too convenient plot device that brings the dangerous plot to a climax. Manohla Dargis called it a deus ex machina, and I’d have to agree.  But the story holds one last curve ball it throws at the audience just moments before the credits start rolling that, I feel, raises sound of My Voice above most things playing in theatres. It’s a scary story without shoving it’s nuances down your throat. There’s this sense of peril director Zal Batmanglij managed to capture, always lurking just beneath the surface and you’re torn over whether you want to see it finally rear its ugly head.  I would seriously recommend giving this one a chance.

★★★½

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