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Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad42.86%
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2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Sound of My Voice
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by Brett Gallman

"It made a believer out of me."
5 stars

“Sound of My Voice” is a masterful film about cults because Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling subtly manipulate you into the shoes of a cultist, and they’ve crafted a film that’s so good that you want to believe in it.

Mesmerizing from its opening scene, the film coldly plunges us into a suburban rendezvous in the middle of the night. It’s here that Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are being initiated into a cult, a moment that’s economically conveyed by all of the familiar signs: beige-washed walls, people in white robes, a complicated handshake, and an overly genteel handler (Richard Wharton) who looks to have spent the last 40 years in Ashbury. A suffocating tension and distrust lingers in the air, even as the cult’s leader, Maggie (Marling), creeps into the room, oxygen tank in tow, assisted by her followers.

As soon as she opens her mouth, though, you can feel the tension melting away to the tune of her soft, inviting voice. Her story is a fascinating one and concludes with a stunning revelation when Maggie claims she’s from the year 2054 and has been sent back in time to take her people to some sort of promised land. It’s almost like you’ve come up for air once you’ve heard this and are instantly transported to Peter and Lorna’s post-initiation chat over breakfast. As it turns out, they’re actually investigating this bizarre cadre and are out to disprove Maggie’s claims. Easier said than done, of course, as they are slowly drawn into the cult.

Likewise, we are wrapped up in the fascinating yarn that Batmanglij and Marling spin with expert precision; they seem to be stitching something with a bunch of threads that seem to be dangling towards an answer. There’s a real sense of propulsion, with the narrative even being carved into chapters that seem to be counting up towards…something. Stringing you along with ease, these two explore the nature of belief and persuasion as they keep dropping in peculiar wrinkles; before long, I found myself so fully engrossed that I wasn’t just perking up after each turn--I was damn near on the edge of my seat, ready to be willingly blindfolded and led further into this mystery.

Leading both the characters and the audience is Marling, the incredible anchor of “Sound of My Voice.” Her charisma is obvious from her introduction, and Marling continually layers nuance into her performance; she is a messiah figure, but she’s not a complete monolith, as the actress finds subtle ways to allow cracks to form when necessary. As a cult leader, she finds a perfect balance of warmth, menace, and mystery as she casts spells on everyone who encounters her--including the audience, who, like Peter especially, can’t resist her charms, no matter how ominous her overtures may be.

There is something altogether haunting about the efficiency with which the film weaves its threads and invites you to keep casting doubts. When new strands begin to emerge and conflict with what we know, we unconsciously find ourselves becoming both the skeptic and the believer as the film moves along. Maggie represents something enigmatic and alluring, while the possible “truth” surrounding her identity is perhaps much more comforting and easier to confront. The script smartly reveals these threads in pieces, as every moment in the film--from its cold opening to its ambiguous ending--are calculated in such a way to deflect certainty.

By the end of the film, you realize that it hasn’t been dangling any answers at all; instead, it was merely scattering possibilities. Two bits of dialogue emerge to define the film: “it’s up to you” and “I don’t know.” Both are spoken by and pertain to characters within the film, but both notions extend out to the audience’s reception of “Sound of My Voice.” Indeed, we don’t know anything for sure, and it’s up to us to decide what it all means. Not unlike one of the characters, we are left with mouth agape, wondering what to believe. The ambiguity isn’t frustrating; instead, it’s an enriching and engrossing final layer of a meticulously woven web that dizzies with intrigue.

Ultimately, “Sound of My Voice” is like a puzzle with missing pieces that still feels complete, and Batmanglij completely gets away with it because, like Maggie, he tells one hell of a story.

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originally posted: 05/18/12 16:28:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/19/19 danR Problem is the FBI having too much backstory on her for twist(expected) to be real. 3 stars
10/05/13 Langano Interesting premise that doesn't pay off. 3 stars
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  27-Apr-2012 (R)
  DVD: 02-Oct-2012


  DVD: 02-Oct-2012

Directed by
  Zal Batmanglij

Written by
  Zal Batmanglij
  Brit Marling

  Christopher Denham
  Nicole Vicius
  Brit Marling

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