Sound of My Voice is a film that will leave you with questions. Not just about the plot (though you’ll have plenty of questions about that, too), but about what exactly the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. That’s not to say that the film is without value, or that it won’t hold an audience’s attention, but it’s tough to decide whether it’s a creative and unique independent film with a strong philosophical statement, or an indie filmmaker’s overdone attempt at a psychological thriller.
The film centers on twenty-something investigative journalists Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), as they attempt to document the inner workings of a cult led by enigmatic demi-messiah Maggie (Brit Marling). Maggie claims to be a visitor from the year 2054, sent back to shepherd a select group of individuals to safety from an approaching civil war. As the couple descends deeper into Maggie’s world, their goals become obscured, their relationship strained, and their reality dramatically shaken.
It’s interesting how the film progresses. Beginning as an examination of the effects that living in a cult society has on the protagonists, it shifts to a M. Night Shyamalan-esque cerebral thriller that focuses more on the couple’s role in a much broader conflict. Star and producer Brit Marling takes an excellent first stab into screenwriting with Sound of My Voice along with co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij, and her powerful performance as Maggie underscores the fairly high quality of the script. It’s not without its gaffes, however. Some of the exposition feels canned, especially the scenes done with cutaway narration, which doesn’t appear throughout the film. At times, the dialogue seems strained, and whether due to choppy writing or occasional poor acting, this definitely detracts from the film’s ethereal tone.
For the most part, though, Marling has written a real gem, with believable characters and a compelling plot that will keep you glued to the screen. Despite a few moments of awkwardness, the cast has a strong showing, with Marling and the other members of the cult standing out. Batmanglij’s direction is nothing short of spectacular. The claustrophobic cinematography heightens the tension in key scenes, and the combination of Marling’s performance and tight camerawork give the cult scenes a visceral thrill.
Many viewers will likely take issue with the film’s ending. There’s no definitive emotional payoff, and you can expect to play the guessing game a bit once it’s over. Rumors of sequels leave audiences wondering whether there were more answers buried deeper in the story, or if future installments will fill in the obvious gaps left by the first film.
Some bizarre quirks and a frustrating conclusion hold this otherwise smartly conceived thriller back from its true potential. Sound of My Voice may just be a film that we’ll have to let settle for a little while before passing judgment, but for now, we’ll take it at face value.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5