Time travel, cult followings and undercover journalism are three topics almost guaranteed to produce a thriller of a movie. Combine the three together and you get Sound of My Voice, written by Brit Marling, of sci-fi indie hit Another Earth who also stars, and Zal Batmanglij, who also directs.
On the face of it, Sound of My Voice is a time-travel movie about undercover journalists joining a cult. Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are a couple breaking into the world of investigative journalism by attempting to infiltrate and expose a mysterious cult. After making contact with the cult Peter and Lorna are blindfolded and taken to a basement where they meet Maggie (Marling) – the cult leader who claims to have time-traveled from 2054 to protect her followers from a future marred by civil war and famine. Peter and Lorna resort to extreme methods to record the cult meetings, but as they penetrate deeper into the group they become increasingly sucked in by Maggie’s story, until they struggle to tell the difference between truth and fiction.
Marling is undoubtedly the star of the film. She is a soft-spoken, ethereal manipulator; infuriatingly superior and yet completely irresistible. Maggie is the perfect cult leader, making vague statements which are lapped up by eager followers sitting cross-legged in front of her like primary school children. The dynamic between Peter and Lorna is at first a little unoriginal – he is the rational boyfriend obsessed with order and control and she is the naïve girlfriend with an addictive personality – but as the film progresses the characters break free of their clichés and come into their own with both actors giving excellent performances.
Despite the majority of the narrative being confined to a basement, Sound of My Voice offers some real thrills, no doubt helped along by the intrusive soundtrack. The transition of the cult members from “ordinary” people to full on Maggie-worshippers as they are broken down is compulsive, and often uncomfortable, viewing. Maggie’s demands of her followers slowly increase until she is able to manipulate them emotionally and physically; the group “purging” session literally leaves the followers’ insides exposed.
Underneath the surface, Sound of My Voice is more about the power of persuasion than the cult itself. As Maggie’s followers are forced to question their beliefs, the audience is also enveloped into the cult. Watching the film is akin to being part one of Maggie’s new recruits – you’re unsure of who or what to trust, after all in the realms of movie-land anything is possible.
So, is she a con artist or is she really from 2054? The downside to this movie is we never really get our answer. In fact, there’s barely enough time to formulate your own answer before the film’s disappointing tail off and abrupt end. After such a strong start it’s a mystery why the latter half of the film is so weak. The potential to delve further into the cult is obvious and the final ambiguity is a bit of a cop out.
Marling and Batmanglij are obviously talented film-makers and definitely ones to watch in the future. Their imaginative film makes up for a low budget with excellent characters and a captivating story which ends far too quickly. It’s well worth a watch but beware; Sound of My Voice will leave you wanting more, and not in a good way.