Monday, June 04, 2012

Sound of My Voice

Your enjoyment of Sound of My Voice, directed by Zal Batmanglij from a script co-written with actress Brit Marling, will depend on your ability to overlook narrative gamesmanship and attempt to engage with the questions the film attempts to raise. Marling plays Maggie, the leader of a cult in present-day Los Angeles who claims to be a traveler from the year 2054. We're kept in the dark about Maggie's past save for one flashback of dubious reliability and her future with her white-robed, freshly showered followers is equally mysterious. Maggie's message seems to be one of letting go of past trauma and petty concerns, but her specific agenda is never explained. Our way into Maggie's world comes through Peter (Christopher Denham), who with his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) is trying to surreptitiously film Maggie with the goal of publicizing her as a dangerous person. Peter, who in his day job as a teacher is befuddled by one of his young students (Avery Pohl), needs to expose Maggie because of his own family's past but just as obviously needs someone to draw out his pain. We're meant to think Maggie (whom Marling with plays with a light touch and wonderful sense of remove) is either a psychic or skilled at reading people, and the way she comes between Peter or Lorna is frightening for its subtlety.

Yet Sound of My Voice falters when it becomes more interested in Maggie's authenticity than in what she does to Peter and Lorna's relationship. The film's universe expands as we learn Maggie has drawn attention from people who aren't her followers, and the climax is a twist that's supposed to inspire wonder but turns into more of a head-scratcher. I wanted to stay with this damaged couple (whose plan to make a documentary disappears from the film) and find out what a visit from the future does to their present. Brit Marling (Another Earth) is a voice to watch, and I applaud her interest in low-fi sci-fi. Sound of My Voice is full of welcome ambition but looks too far ahead just when we need it to stay here.

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