In Sound of My Voice, Peter and Lorna are a young couple decides to infiltrate and expose a cult. As we eventually learn, each had painful childhoods, making them both susceptible to the charms of Maggie, the leader of this small group. As Peter and Lorna get pulled deeper into the cult, you expect the plot of Sound of My Voice to take a vicious turn, just like so many dark indie movies. However, this film takes several unexpected turns, making this one riveting and highly recommended new thriller.
Directed by Zal Batmanglij and written by the director with actress Brit Marling (Another Earth), the film opens with Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) arriving at a suburban home in the wee hours of a Southern California night. They are given a hospital gowns, told to shower, then are bound and blindfolded before transported to another location. There, at this second, nondescript house, they meet a group of people who follow the preaching of the seductive young Maggie (Marling). After some brief introductions, Maggie tells her impossible story of survival.
Maggie claims that she woke up naked in a hotel bathtub, covered in water. She’s kicked out of the hotel for trespassing and wanders the dangerous streets of Los Angeles, disoriented, with only the hotel sheet to protect her. With no memory, food or shelter, she’s adrift and seemingly doomed. Then, an older man, Klaus (Richard Warton), finds her on the streets and claims to know who she is based on her mysterious tattoos. Klaus takes Maggie in and she regains her memory. Or so she says. Maggie reveals that the “54” tattooed on her ankle represents the year she was born, as in 2054. She’s from our future and she has travelled back in time to prepare the world for an impending civil war.
Before you can say “Holy shit,” the scene cuts to black and the story jumps ahead to later that night. As Peter and Lorna drive home, we learn that they aren’t just some poor lost souls, searching for answers; they’re upstart investigative journalists out to expose Maggie as a dangerous fraud. Peter is a teacher, by day, at a private school for girls, while Lorna lives off the wealth of her record producer father. They each have scarred childhoods (Peter’s mom died of cancer on his 13th birthday; Lorna has a history of drug and alcohol abuse) and each has a hole in their soul that makes Maggie an attractive figure. The lengths that they are willing to go to in order to expose the Maggie cult are great, even if it includes the possibility of opening the wounds of their pasts. Both of them are seduced by Maggie’s charm and beauty, but the story is not obvious in the way either of these characters behaves.
Sound of My Voice is a great example of how digital filmmaking doesn’t have to be all herky jerky and look like a home movie. Batmanglij’s well thought out movie uses hand held cameras to great effect, yet each shot is composed beautifully and the mise en scene keeps you riveted for the quick 85 minutes of the movie’s duration. The film score highlights the film’s thriller and sci-fi tone, although the abrupt use of a rock song at a pivotal moment leading to the film’s climax seemed rather off putting (the movie’s only misstep, as far as I’m concerned).
As the focal point of the film, Marling is convincing as both a cult leader and a woman out of time. Is she really a time traveler? I won’t tell. However, the film belongs to Denham and Vicius, who occupy nearly every frame of the film, either together or on their own. Their remarkable acting had me aching during their pains and my eyes wide open with them as Maggie’s secrets were revealed. One of the best indies I’ve seen this year and definitely worth your time.
The Blu-ray has very limited features, a few featurettes, including interviews with Marling and Batmanglij.