“Sound of My Voice” (2011) Review
After seeing “Another Earth”, I knew there was something special about the lead actress and co-writer, Brit Marling (you can read my review of that wonderful sci-fi film here). In “Sound of My Voice”, Brit does double duty again, both co-writing and starring as the cult leader, Maggie. The plot is relatively straightforward – a substitute teacher, Peter, and his girlfriend, Lorna, look to infiltrate and make a documentary exposing cult leader, Maggie, who claims to be from the future, as a fraud. Maggie claims to have traveled back in time to prepare a group of people for a coming civil war apocalypse. This is the film’s central premise, but not where its magic lies.
While this plot setting is a nice set-up for the film, the best and worst parts of this story are in its ambiguity. Throughout the film, there are many pieces of information presented at the viewer, and none of these neither truly confirm nor deny Maggie’s claims that she is a time traveler. Thus, as the film progresses, the viewer feels just like Peter and Lorna in that we are trying to figure this situation out for ourselves, as well. The spell that Maggie is able to cast upon her followers seems quite real, yet our rational side denies that there exists any truth to her stories. This feeling of being unsure is exactly what you are supposed to feel.
All of the many scenes in the film, ranging from intense and repulsive to subtle and ambiguous, all can be interpreted in different ways, depending on how you feel about Maggie. This is a wonderful touch, and due to some great writing, you are kept on the edge of your seat with each new test and revelation. Yet, for how great the vast majority of the film is, the ending suffers. I don’t mind ambiguity in endings, as when done right, they are wonderful (as in “Another Earth”). Here, however, the film ends short of developing some of its characters enough to be able to create a coherent puzzle at the end. With out spoiling anything, some characters, outside of Maggie, seem like their words are not truthful either, yet we are not given enough interaction with these characters to make any interpretation of their actions, and how they play into the story as a whole. I surely hope the sequel talk for this film is true, as there are many pieces that could be explored.
Outside of the story, the acting is nicely done. Brit Marling is just as wonderful as she was in “Another Earth”. She becomes wholly believable as Maggie, playing the role with such skill that the audience is drawn into her “spell” just as much as her followers. The supporting cast does a nice job lending more credibility to the story.
One thing I didn’t notice throughout the film was its soundtrack. This is not necessarily a downside, as I think the quietness throughout many scenes fits nicely, as most scenes take place in the solitude of the basement of a home. Speaking of the basement, there is some nice cinematography in the film. The ability to create such tension in the environment and development of the story with half of the film taking place in a single basement requires just as much out of the director behind the camera, as it does of the writing and acting, and Zal Batmanglij does a nice job with such a small budget and minimal environment changes.
“Sound of My Voice” is an interesting sci-fi film. It is a simple premise filled with ambiguity that leaves the interpretation of its pieces completely in the hands of the viewer. You are left having to go with your gut in how you feel about Maggie and her story, and that is the biggest strength of the film. Yet, with all this ambiguity, it leaves its story too open that when the ending strikes quickly, the viewer is left with fundamental questions that need to be somewhat answered to create a fully cohesive story. Despite fumbling at the end, Brit Marling remains a talent to watch out for in the future, one whose next collaboration with Zal Batmanglij, called “The East”, I am highly anticipating.
Final Score: 7.4/10