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Sound Of My Voice

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Friday Apr 27, 2012
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A still from "Sound of My Voice"
A still from "Sound of My Voice"  

Smart, compelling and beautifully executed indie movies have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years with critical darlings such as "Take Shelter" and "Another Earth." But for the most part they are still ignored by film audiences who seem to be simply awaiting the latest superhero blockbuster. With any luck, "Sound of My Voice" will change that.

Written by actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, Sound of My Voice is a true indie film. Hampered by a low budget, minimal locations and relatively unknown actors, this is not a film that begs open on 3000+ screens. But there’s the rub: give an audience a compelling narrative and a mystery they are desperate to solve and you will find that audiences from New York to California will be glued to the screen.

"Sound of My Voice" opens with young couple Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) following printed instructions directing them to a nondescript house where they pull into the garage, close the door, and wait to be taken inside. They are then told to hand over their possessions, take showers and change into hospital gowns, which they do, only to be blindfolded, handcuffed, and driven to a new location twenty minutes away. Once inside the new house, they are freed of their binds and eventually shown to a finished basement where they meet a handful of other people - all dressed like them - awaiting an audience with the leader of the mysterious group they have asked to join. That leader is Maggie (Brit Marling), an enigmatic young woman, hooked up to a tank of oxygen, sporting a tattoo on her ankle of a crudely drawn anchor and the number 54. Seemingly innocuous, she tells the group about why she is there. Maggie is from the future and she’s come to collect Chosen Ones to help her save the future from destruction.

Her story is so captivating it’s easy to believe. But Maggie remains elusive about the details of what her followers will do, where they will go, and how their actions fit into saving the world. Instead, she practices self-help rituals in order to make the group open up about themselves and purge their pasts.

Peter and Lorna, of course, have secrets of their own. They aren’t just followers; they are documentarians who have deliberately infiltrated Maggie’s group in order to expose her. But as Maggie’s grip tightens and as Peter starts to shed some of his inhibitions, Lorna isn’t sure how to cope. And that conflict keeps growing more insistent.

Who IS Maggie? Is she a con-artist? Is she crazy? Is she actually telling the truth? Or is she simply a megalomaniac bent on creating a group of followers who will worship her? As played by Brit Marling, she is the film’s most compelling presence. Denham and Vicius are also quite good and develop depth in characters who seem pretty straight-forward on the outside, but thanks Maggie’s manipulations, begin to unravel emotionally.

It’s interesting to note that Marling also co-wrote and was the lead actor in last year’s sci-fi drama "Another Earth." Marling’s films are fascinating because she develops unique concepts about a world on the brink of change - then examines how that change would affect everyday citizens like you and me. Like "Another Earth," "Sound of My Voice" pushes aside the obvious question (is this strange woman a liar?) and forces us to ask ourselves how we would react were we faced with such extraordinary circumstances. And like "Another Earth," we are startled, shocked, and emotionally changed when the final frame goes to black.

Director and co-writer Batmanblij directs with an assured hand, nailing the film’s documentary-style by shooting much of it in close-up. This invites us into the minds of the characters via our ability to study the minute characteristics of their faces. Even with a micro-budget, the film has a nice gritty look and is beautifully framed.

"Sound of My Voice" is relentlessly spellbinding and unpredictable. You’ll want to go back and watch it again. You’ll want to talk about it with your friends. And you’ll hope that this indie film can break the curse, and eke from the box office a financial return beyond its humble imaginings.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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