Those who fawn over indie “It Girl” darlings had best have a “trust fall” partner walk behind them while exiting Sound of My Voice because writer/actress Brit Marling is downright “humina-humina” swoon-worthy. It’s not just that her role in the film is predicated on the fact that you will automatically mildly obsess over her, it’s the knowledge that she helped write this remarkably clever, understated, light-sci-fi insta-classic, the second such film she penned in the last year. And she appeared as Britta’s pseudo-lesbian love interest on TV’s smartest comedy, “Community.” It’s not weakness if you faint after reading this; it’s just a sign of good taste.
Much like the brilliant Primer before it, Sound of My Voice leverages a microbudget to play with a clever, somewhat-science-fiction conceit. Peter (Christopher Denham), a teacher-turned-would-be-documentarian whose mother died after refusing treatment for her cancer thanks to a cult she joined, enlists the help of his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), the daughter of a big-time Hollywood producer who transformed from frequent rehab inhabitant to hipster-vegan. The plan is to infiltrate a new cult and expose it as a sham.
The leader of this cult, Maggie (Marling), is ethereal and forcefully disarming. She is at once terrifying in her perpetually white-wearing beauty and simultaneously irresistible. While in private with Lorna, Peter calls Maggie a “liar” and “evil,” in her presence, he is powerless, going so far as to confess his innermost secrets to a woman he’s met exactly twice. Thanks to Marling’s deft delivery, Maggie is dangerously believable, which is particularly problematic considering she claims to be a time traveler from the year 2050.
As Peter and Lorna spiral further and further down Maggie’s rabbit hole, a phrase that’s not meant to sound sexual here as the affection for the high priestess is never that vulgar, they are called upon to do stranger and stranger things. The result is a head-scratching, deliciously ambiguous third act that at once makes it thrilling that Marling and director Zal Batmanglij have pitched a possible trilogy and somewhat disappointing.
You see, beyond the spectacular acting from all parties involved (save possibly Nicole Vicius, who was at least naturally well cast), the movie’s strength is its lithe, light touch. There are enough clues to make a definitive proclamation of opinion as to the veracity of Maggie’s tale, but it would still be just an opinion. And isn’t that deliriously fun?
If Memento had conclusively told you who the killer was, wouldn’t it have soured the experience a little? But at the same time, these characters, particularly Marling’s, are just so flinging-flanging rich and interesting, who wouldn’t want more to devour?
Those who have dismissed Sound of My Voice have derided its “tin-eared” dialogue, muddled conclusion and lack of philosophical reflection in discussing the cult itself. They’re wrong. The dialogue is necessarily delirious in Maggie’s world, the final five minutes are what defines the experience and the portrayal of the cult when intercut with Lorna and Peter’s hipster existence is incredibly insightful. It may sound like mixing metaphors, but you will regret not seeing Sound of My Voice.
Grade = A