Sound Of My Voice
Debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and also selected as part of SXSW Film Festival, Sound of My Voice got immediate acclaim from audiences before being optioned for a feature film by Fox Searchlight. It’s a psychological thriller at heart, dabbling on the surface of sci-fi with subtlety and ingenuity. Director/writer Zal Batmanglij takes surprising care with this picture, letting it unfold at a compelling pace—exciting waves of wonder and skepticism ripple through the viewer from the opening scenes.
The film centers around the unique character of Maggie (played brilliantly by Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the piece), the iconic leader of an underground cult which holds weekly meetings in the basement of a non-descript, suburban house in or around the San Fernando Valley. The premise: Maggie is from the future. The future being 2054, which is a fairly small jump in terms of time traveling sci-fi characters, but an intriguing nuance as it’s an impending and wholly foreseeable future. It’s also presented in 10 "parts," which is hard to sell as necessity for plot, but does lend nicely to the conspiracy theories that naturally evolve in one’s mind during the film. There’s also the handshake, with which the filmmakers seem very smitten (and which debatably demeans the glory of the film—having the tendency to be a bit gimmicky).
As a balance to the rather standard time-traveler, sci-fi plot, the two main characters, Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius), a couple, aspire to film a documentary of their infiltration into Maggie’s cult in the hope of exposing her as a fraud and save her hapless followers. We follow them through their initiation: Peter carrying a small camera in his glasses, where they are made to strip down, wash themselves thoroughly, change into neutral hospital gowns and then, handcuffed and blindfolded, are led into the back of a van and driven to the garage where the cult meetings are based. Maggie’s reveal is slow—stealthily shuffling in wearing a white, flowing skirt, veil, and towing behind her an oxygen tank, apparently needed to help her breathe.
If there is one downfall of the film it’s that it lacks commitment. There are so many glorious subplots that are introduced and then never allowed to sprout into the rapturous consumption of a completely different world—they are instead left to fester as nothing more than the beginning of ingenious ideas. Of course, there is something to be admired in said plot devices (that is, ones which introduce grandiose ideas without much resolution). It creates possibilities and furthers the curious fascination which is ignited. Plus, they offers up plenty of chances for future filmmakers to use this film as a springboard to delve further into this mysterious world that they have created. Indeed, with every stand out point, there seems to be an equal shadow which begs the question of whether to award credit or demerit the filmmakers for their lack of gusto and bravado on a story that has the absolute possibility to excel into something quite remarkable.
The film mainly bypasses a musical soundtrack, instead making the choice to highlight through silence the inward tug the characters encounter as they plunge themselves into the world of "Maggie" and society's questionable future. Unfortunately, the few songs they do choose are suspect. And the lack of music up to that point serves to highlight the tracks more than if there was a wide musical score from the start, and there is the possibility these choices date what could be a timeless science-fiction film.
Regardless, it’s a gripping plot. The deliberations are put in the hands of the watcher, making the trials that Peter and Lorna encounter even more intimate and jarring. It’s a beautifully timed film, written and edited with such precision that it’s hard to walk away at the close and not applaud the amount of awe that was produced, and with such tact, despite the lack of finesse in its conclusion.
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