Peter Aitken: “Somewhere in the valley, there is a woman living in a basement. She’s actually amassing followers. These people believe that she will actually lead them to salvation, or whatever. And yes, she’s dangerous – but we have to see this thing through. All the way.”
Sound of my Voice is a bare bones but startlingly effective psychological thriller. It inspires an almost knee-jerk comparison to other genre films that center on dangerous and/or secret cults (like Holy Ghost People and Martha Marcy May Marlene), but Sound of My Voice veers into sci-fi territory (similar to Believers). It’s absolutely amazing how this micro-budget film manages to make time-travel seem possible without the use of any technology, expensive sets, or special effects; instead it relies on great acting, skillful storytelling, and intelligent execution to make an outlandish plot appear at least potentially plausible.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Two documentary filmmakers attempt to penetrate a cult who worships a woman who claims to be from the future.
Perhaps I use the term “Future cult classic” too often, but Sound of My Voice has “Sleeper Hit” written all over it. It’s an absolutely engrossing film, one that manages to pull viewers in completely, all without violence, gore, or even much action. There are no car chases or explosions, murders or jump-scares—fights and confrontations are verbal, and the terror is psychological. Sound of My Voice is non-pretentious and straight forward, but I found its hold to be almost hypnotic.
Sound of My Voice was directed by Zal Batmanglij (is that a real name?) who also co-wrote the film with Brit Marling who plays the beautiful, charismatic, and manipulative cult leader known only as Maggie. Apparently, Marling even wrote the part of Maggie always intending to play it herself, which explains how she owns the role so completely. Maggie’s character is the center of the film, and Marling’s dynamite portrayal has everything to do with Sound of My Voice’s effectiveness and impact. On paper, she’s a ridiculous egomaniac, an obvious con artists—but her words exude wisdom, delivered with such a natural confidence, even hardcore skeptics find reason to pause.
Peter Aitken (played by Christopher Denham) is a skeptic with an axe to grind. Substitute teacher by day, investigative journalist by night, Peter is on a mission to debunk Maggie. But he’s driven by more than just a desire to nab a compelling story: Peter’s mother was a cult member, one who refused medical treatment even when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her death left a void in Peter, along with volumes of unresolved anger and resentment. It’s obvious that he’s seeking some sort of inner peace, perhaps believing that exposing Maggie will help him put his issues to rest. But, ironically, his inner-pain only makes him more susceptible to Maggie’s manipulations. Peter begins to lose himself, setting off down a dangerous path.
When I say Sound of My Voice is non-pretentious and straight forward, it’s not to imply that the film is simple or easy to digest. Actually, it’s an incredibly complicated story, one that defies easy explanations or all-encompassing conclusions. In essence, it’s impossible to reveal “spoilers” since there are no absolutes and no easy answers. Maggie is never able to prove she’s really from the future, but in the context of the film, her claims can never be disproved either.
This lack of certainty makes the film open to any number of interpretations. Does anyone remember those Chose Your Own Adventure books from back in the 1980’s? Sound of My Voice is almost like those: A single tome with several possible conclusions. Where you end up depends on the decisions YOU make as a viewer. If YOU decide that Maggie is indeed a time-traveler, then you will find all the proof you need. Likewise, if YOU decide Maggie is a fraud, you can also find plenty of support for this conclusion as well. The Sound of My Voice message board on IMDB is filled with some very intelligent and creative theories, and the way the film is presented makes them all, at the very least, possible.
Sound of my Voice was conceived of as a potential trilogy; this makes a lot of sense as there are many questions left unanswered, specifically in regards to a young girl named Abby. Her connection to Maggie is at the heart of this film, but her history is never really discussed. Abby’s sub-plot also contains some of the most ominous subtext in Sound of My Voice. There’s definitely something off about her; she displays symptoms of severe depression and post-traumatic stress. She’s also drugged on a regular basis, writes cryptic messages on her classmate’s back-pack, never takes off her red-knit cap—and her Lego sculpture look a lot like the Twin Towers pre-9/11. Then there’s that secret handshake….
The filmmakers have adamantly refused to discuss the “meaning” of the film and have stated that even they “don’t really know” who exactly Maggie is. And while no further sequels are currently in the works, I want to see this narrative expanded into an epic. And since Sound of My Voice is character driven, never relying on special effects or intense thrills, it seems like sequels could be produced on relatively small budgets. Batmanglij and Marling should hit Kickstarter to set the wheels in motion. I see a great franchise in the making.
While not a Horror movie in the strictest since, Sound of My Voice still earns its R rating, with one scene in particular sure to tickle your gag reflex. There are also some very explicit discussions of child sexual abuse that are difficult to endure. (Sexual abuse is kind of like the Elephant in the room–especially when it come to hypothesizing Abby’s connection to the cult). The conclusion is awesome except for the cheesy techno song that ushers us into the final credits. But as you can see, my criticisms are minor.
It should also be noted that the conclusion of the film is hardly the end of the story–and I totally want to know what happens next!
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Zal Batmanglij|
|Produced by||Brit Marling
Hans C. Ritter
|Written by||Zal Batmanglij
|Music by||Rostam Batmanglij|
|Editing by||Tamara Meem|
|Distributed by||Fox Searchlight Pictures|