[Review] – Sound Of My Voice

12 May

Title: Sound of My Voice
Year: 2012
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writers: Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius
MPAA Rating: R, language including some sexual references, and brief drug use
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Metacritic: 66

If you don’t have Brit Marling on your radar by now you should seriously consider readjusting that thing. The twenty-eight year-old actress starred and co-wrote last year’s amazing Another Earth (which I gave an A- to) and just from seeing that movie you could tell she was bound for great things. Well, our first taste of what’s she’s up to after that breakout role has just arrived with Sound of My Voice, another film in which she’s a co-writer, this time alongside director Zal Batmanglij. And even though this is certainly not as great as Another Earth, it’s still a pretty good film, and, more importantly, it further establishes that Brit Marling is here to stay. And that’s a very good thing.

What I also really appreciated about this film is the fact that it’s undeniably a very smart flick. It’s a psychological thriller with a slight sci-fi element in it that relies entirely on its smarts, never once using special effects to lure you in, and never once using some kind of visual gimmick to try to get you to believe in something. It just lays it down for you to get into it, and it succeeds at it.

Sound of My Voice is a film about cults. One of my favorite films of last year, Martha Marcy May Marlene (which I gave an A+ to and ranked as my tenth favorite film of 2011), was also about a cult and it explored what being in one could potentially do to a person, how it could so heavily distort whatever one’s sense of self was, and how it could implant as many notions as it could in your mind through the power of persuasion. In Sound of My Voice, however, Brit Marling doesn’t play the kind of character the amazing Elizabeth Olsen played in Martha Marcy May Marlene (which was my second favorite performance by an actress in a leading role of 2011), she doesn’t play the woman brainwashed by the cult; she plays the cult’s leader.

She’s the leader of a group, a young woman who claims to be from the future. She never once offers up any certain proof that she’s telling the truth, no evidence that she comes from a different point in time, because like I said, this film uses none of those gimmicks. Instead she gets people to buy into her claim, to show a faithful devotion to her, just because of how convincing a case she makes for her statements when she speaks.

Then we meet Peter, an amateur documentarian from nearby who wants to prove that this emissary-from-the-future, Maggie, is a fraud. And he enlists Lorna, his girlfriend, to help him infiltrate the cult, get right to the bottom of it, make a documentary of it secretly, and then expose them for the fraud he thinks they are. And they indeed get to infiltrate it, they learn the secret handshake, they don the white garments and they obey the extremely hygienic rules. And then they meet Maggie, and she tells them their story of how she comes from the year 2054, and how her body can’t cope with the present-day toxins, and how she orders them to purge themselves by vomiting, and how she needs their human blood to get protein.

Ms. Marling, by the way, sells the hell out of that general conceit. She makes these super weird demands, but she always sounds serious though not alarmed, comforting even, and you get the sense that even the very logical Peter, who went in just totally decided to expose her, starts becoming enchanted by her. And it really is a pretty damn good performance by Ms. Marling, one that keeps you as an audience member just as compelled by her as her followers are, totally enthralled by how she seems to be so vulnerable and yet so strong, how she speaks in a really warm yet demanding tone. And as this film never once says what’s the truth to any side of this story, you’ll be left wondering who and what to believe yourself.

I really liked what Sound of My Voice offered us. I loved the presence of Brit Marling, and how she can not only give us this beautifully understated performance but also use it to convey a really human story and say a lot about the human condition that’s being dealt with in these more extraordinary and sci-fi-ish plot lines, much like she did in Another Earth. Plus she’s a writer in this one too, which only goes to show you that this an actress that really knows her stuff, knows how to tell a great story, knows how to write a compelling story and knows how to create all of this in a considerably small budget. Again, if she’s not on your radar by now, consider readjusting that thing.

Zal Batmanglij is also someone to watch out for after this film. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not crafted a truly great film and I there are things that are off that prevent me from grading it in the A-range, mostly the fact that I think this one would have benefitted from having twenty more minutes in it to flesh out some ideas and scenes (and avoid that rather abrupt ending), but this is his debut feature-length film and in it he shows a lot promise. Not to mention that his next effort, The East, is also co-written with and stars Ms. Marling alongside some other awesome people like Ellen Page, so yeah, this is a collaboration that will hopefully keep giving us good things and grow together. What we have now, though, is Sound of My Voice, and those little problems aside, this one, much like Maggie, manages to cast a pretty effective spell.

Grade: B+

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