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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad42.86%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Sound of My Voice
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by Jay Seaver

"No cult for this one."
2 stars

There were two films at Sundance last year that featured Brit Marling as both an actress and co-writer, and despite being quite different, both fit the pattern of using a fantastical premise to get noticed but ultimately focusing on more blandly conventional things. "Another Earth" was stronger throughout, but "Sound of My Voice" has better moments, even if both add up to less than their potential.

Somewhere in southern California, a small cult meets in a basement. The group takes careful precautions so that only the inner circle knows where they meet, but tonight four new members - Peter (Christopher Denham), his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), Christine (Constance Wu), and her husband Lam (Alvin Lam) are brought in to meet Maggie (Brit Marling), their leader, who claims to be from the future. Peter and Lorna aim to infiltrate and expose it, with Peter especially motivated, although there's also a mystery at the school where he teaches - 8-year-old Abigail Pritchett (Avery Pohl) has bizarre spells and obsessively builds Lego towers when she gets home.

Sound of My Voice opens compellingly, with a sequence demonstrating the mechanics of secrecy and efficient introductions of the main characters, but once the scenario is in place, co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij and Marling don't really seem to know what to do with it. Maggie spouts simple pop psychology and vague stories that could do with being a lot more compelling for the effect they seem to have on her followers, and a scene that should be full of tension winds up slack, leading to a fair amount of predictable wheel-spinning. The movie does have a climax as opposed to just stopping, but it's the sort of ending whose ambiguities aren't nearly as clever as the filmmakers are trying to make them, while other mysteries are left dangling carelessly.

Part of the trouble is the cast. Marling's performance was the best thing about Another Earth, but that called for her to be someone the audience could relate to, even in unusual circumstances; here, where Maggie needs to have some sort of other-ness to be convincing, she's woefully miscast. Christopher Denham is blanker than he needs to be as Peter, but Nicole Vicius is able to get much more out of Lorna than seems to be on the page - indeed, while both have their backgrounds described with a bit of narration, what is spoon-fed to the audience about Peter winds up being the bulk of his characterization, and Lorna turns out interesting even though that information is mostly irrelevant.

To be fair, both co-writers appear to misjudge their strengths here. Zal Batmanglij directs activity fairly well - that opening, for instance, works as a pretty great hook, and he can work the strange things going on in Abigail's room for all they are worth (music that's as much an ominous rumble as a score doesn't hurt). He's not a guy who can breathe life into scenes of expository dialogue, though, especially when what is being exposed never winds up being that important. In a way, this skill at creating intrigue backfires - the filmmakers create enough curiosity early that someone might strain to listen to what a television running in the background is saying, because it could be important later on, but none of their teases are, which just winds up frustrating.

Sure, the movie ends on a note which is meant to suggest something bigger, but it's a played-out, cheap bit. The movie doesn't earn the emotion it's looking for at the end, and few involved are capable of grabbing it anyway.

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originally posted: 05/22/12 09:19:34
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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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