The preparations are ritualistic, elaborate. But they’re just another test. If you want to get into the cult, you’ve got to go through this.
“Sound of My Voice” is a faintly sinister drama about aspiring documentary filmmakers in search of an expose, and the captivating beauty at the heart of this cult they hope to infiltrate.
“Somewhere in the Valley, there’s a woman living in a basement.” This woman is telling select people that she’s from the future, and “she’s amassing followers.”
That’s given Peter (Christopher Denham), a substitute teacher and aspiring filmmaker, an idea for a hidden camera expose. He and girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a reformed L.A. party girl, will pack a hidden camera and get footage of this elusive blond with a tale to tell.
Maggie (Brit Marling) is willowy, spacey, with a quiet but moderately compelling speaking voice. After Lorna and Peter pass the early tests and get into the group, maybe they notice that it’s not so much that she’s “beautiful and mesmerizing,” as Lorna says. It’s her presentation.
There are handlers, such as Klaus (Richard Wharton, who looks like a cult leader). There’s a silly secret handshake. Maggie drags an oxygen tank with her, has her blood cleansed and tells her followers that her immune system can’t handle this world.
Because, she says, she’s from the future — 2054. Look, this tattoo on my ankle proves it!
As we learned with “Prime” and the Spanish thriller “Timecrimes,” time travel is something you put in a movie with almost no budget. Don’t get caught up in the how and why, the devices/phenomena that make it possible. Focus on the displacement, the eerie idea of it.
And, in the case of “Sound of My Voice,” whether or not Maggie is making the whole thing up.
Marling, star of “Another Earth,” is still more a visually striking presence than an actress. But she has much more to play here. Maggie has to be mystical and quiet, but also cruel and cunning, digging under the skin of this apostle or that one. Peter, who has a back-story with cults, has a hard time faking sincerity when she’s around him.
“Do you want to be a cripple for life, Peter?”
Vicius, a breakout performer here, runs the gamut from needy and gullible to defiant. And Denham, who had small roles in “Shutter Island” and many other films, is convincing as a guy who needs to convince himself — of something, one way or the other.
Marling and director Zal Batmanglij co-wrote the film, which is built around several quiet group-encounter scenes with just Marling telling her time-travel tale, or confronting (quietly) her new followers. The whole affair is pitched in a minor key that robs it of urgency, even when the stakes are raised. Is Maggie really “dangerous”? Is there even a tiny chance she’s the real deal?
That’s the film’s most serious shortcoming. “The Sound of My Voice” seems to have more doubts about Maggie than the ones the viewer has the chance to develop.
MPAA Rating: R, for language including some sexual references and brief drug use.
Cast: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius
Credits: Directed by Zal Batmanglij, written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. A Fox Searchlight release.
Running time: 1:25