Sound of My Voice Directed by: Zal Batmanglij
Written by: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Starring: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling, Richard Wharton
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: May 25, 2012
“Somewhere in the valley, there is a woman living in a basement. She’s actually amassing followers. these people believe that she will actually lead them to salvation, or whatever. And yes, she’s dangerous – but we have to see this thing through. All the way.”
Sound of My Voice is a suspenseful, mesmerizing work by first-time feature director Zal Batmanglij.
The film follows Los Angeles journalist Peter (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) as they attempt to infiltrate a cult in hopes of exposing its leader as a charlatan.
When you think of cults (and who doesn’t on a regular basis, am I right?), you probably picture charismatic, weird-beard crazies like Charles Manson or David Koresh. It’s unlikely that you would associate a young, beautiful woman with being an enigmatic, basement-dwelling cult leader, but that’s probably because you discriminate on a basis of sex.
We all know women are just as qualified for leadership positions as men, whether it be CEO of a Fortune 500 company or your average time-traveling cult messiah. That’s Maggie (co-writer and co-producer Brit Marling), a young woman who claims to be from the future (the year 2054 to be precise) and promises to prepare her followers for a future that is already written: a post-apocalyptic world riddled with famine and war.
If Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene exists as a how-to guide on escaping a cult, then Batmanglij’s film is a recruiting video, providing you with all the necessary steps on successfully joining one – including those tricky, secret handshakes.
Peter and Lorna’s attempt at investigative journalism is complicated as they are drawn deeper into Maggie’s circle of disciples. Maggie reveals that she is dying, that her body has grown weak – unaccustomed to the poisons of the present. She is confined to a suburban basement where she receives blood transfusions and eats genetically-engineered fruit.
To Peter and Lorna, it’s easy to see Maggie as a false prophet. She’s all talk – she can’t provide any concrete evidence that she’s from the year 2054, other than a rather odd tattoo on her ankle – but what pretty blonde girl doesn’t have a weird, symbolic tattoo on their ankle these days?
As they become more entangled within Maggie’s charismatic, persuasive teachings, Peter and Lorna begin to wonder if Maggie could truly be who she claims to be – and if so, what she plans to do with the information she’s keeping from her disciples.
Cinematically speaking, Sound of My Voice is a blend of Ti West’s House of the Devil, Mike Cahill’s Another Earth and the aforementioned Martha Marcy May Marlene – an eerie, altogether unsettling yet aesthetically pleasing independent film that represents a promising new generation of filmmakers.
Another similarity Batmanglij’s feature shares with these films is its rather abrupt ending. Perhaps filmmakers of my generation feel it is better to leave the audiences wanting more, ending the film during the falling action rather than providing an actual resolution – but I wanted to spend more time in that world and learn all I could before the credits rolled. Unfortunately, I was deprived of that.
These films have intriguing premises, original concepts that are well-written and executed flawlessly… until the third act, when things are rushed and a fully-realized resolution is replaced with a shock-and-awe revelation. And then the film just stops – it simply cuts off, as if the projector’s switch was flipped.
Even still, Sound of My Voice overcomes its abrupt, unfulfilling ending by providing an original story with a brilliant premise and some fine performances by Marling, Denham, and Vicius (who reminds me of a more-talented, beautiful hybrid of Jennifer Tilly and Renée Zellweger).
If you enjoy independent films, speculative science fiction, or just have an earnest interest in starting your own weird post-apocalyptic basement cult, I highly recommend Sound of My Voice. It’s a haunting, beautiful film that has embedded itself in my mind, like a splinter – a song stuck in my head that I can’t quite shake.
You can check out the first 12 minutes of Sound of My Voice at the film’s official website, or you can watch the trailer below:
PS: The director has BATMAN in his last name – how could this NOT be a film worth seeing? [insert random “Swear to me!” growl]