The Film: Sound Of My Voice (2011)
The Principles: Zal Batmanglij (Director), Brit Marling, Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius
The Premise: A tense look at a couple who attempt to film a documentary about a cult led by a girl who claims to be from the future
Is It Good:
This film had some good buzz on the festival circuit and really good word of mouth, but never really looked all that appealing to me from the trailers. I finally sat down to give it a fair shake and can do nothing but praise this buried gem. Due to actress/writer Brit Marling, I will be exploring another one of her projects with similar buzz and appeal Another Earth. Look for that one week from today.
The Sound Of My Voice takes very little time to suck the audience in. The two filmmakers arrive at a house, get told to strip and shower and then are transported while blindfolded to a new residence. Inside the residence, the guests prove their right for admittance by doing a secret handshake that could have easily been in a Farrelly Brother or Zucker Zucker Abrahams film, but comes across as unbelievably difficult instead. Words are spoken between the door guard (also one of the main cultists) and the documentary duo. By the time Brit Marling appears to start talking about the future the intrigue has turned her presence into an event for the cultists, new and old. That’s the simple summary about a film that gracefully reveals just enough information for the audience to digest while cooking complex questions about time travel, organizational ethics and personal motivations.
A specific recent film that come to mind when thinking about the Sound Of My Voice, fellow Sundance darling Martha Marcy May Marlene . Both of those films were outstanding in their own right, so any comparison would have to be a positive one. The questions raised about belief in the leader and the danger that belief may bring parallel a lot of the similar concepts in Martha Marcy May Marlene, but instead of a menacing John Hawkes there is a fragile Brit Marling. The charisma and leadership both of the characters maintained made it easy to see how people could get fooled into following them. The commitment of the central characters were put to test as choices between personal integrity and the beliefs of the cult.
Unlike Martha Marcy May Marlene, there is a major taint of science fiction involved. As Marling reveals more about the future the question remains of how she got there and why. There is a big part of the plot tied into how the choices made in the present could affect the future. The question of authenticity continues to be breached. The words Marling speaks to the group make her appear genuine, though invoke questions once they are away from her.
Denham and Vicius make a very convincing under cover couple, using common stereotypical gender definitions to drive their relationship. It may sound wrong, but it they appear as a very natural and believable couple that have problems relationship issues that they look past by becoming engrossed in their joint activities. The arc their relationship takes never feels forced and has a solid foundation after the first few scenes.
Something that worked very well was the miniscule numeric countdown segments that informed the audience that frenetic pace was nearing a conclusion. It was effective as scene transitions to indicate the passing of time or to introduce new characters or themes. As more was introduced, the timer continued to roll backwards and intensified the situation due to showing such a large subject matter and limiting the time.
Is It Worth A Look: Brit Marling is quickly establishing herself as both a great character actress and even more importantly as a fresh and vibrant voice in the independent film industry. This reason alone defines a reason to look at the film.
The film doesn’t need the appeal of the new face, as it is successful on its own. It’s a fresh take to mix science fiction in with cult fanatics while keeping the film based in a real world setting. There have been other cult/science fiction films, but the only ones I can remember were outrageous or based in an alternate universe/time type setting.
Never quite letting the audience know the story from Marling’s perspective propels this film much farther than the common Hollywood blockbuster. It doesn’t heavy hand an opinion or true defining moment about whether Marling is being real or just a mad lunatic. It leverages her questionable sanity as the foundation pivot point between a David Koresh type leader or someone time travelling from Logan’s Run.
Sound of My Voice was nominated for five total awards, and Batmanglij won the director to watch awad at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Cinematic Soulmates: Martha Marcy May Marlene, Looper, Arlington Road, Helter Skelter