The only qualm I have with Zal Batmanglij (yes, the director’s name is Batman!) and Brit Marling’s film Sound Of My Voice is that its title is missing a ‘the’; the feeling that I am beginning a sentence halfway through makes me uncomfortable. But then, how apt that the film’s title seemingly leaves bits out and makes me feel off since that’s exactly what Sound Of My Voice does as a film.
Brit Marling is Maggie; a prophet to some, a cult leader to others. She is a hidden enigma that professes to be from the year 2054 and is here to, well, she plays her cards pretty close to her chest so we’re not really sure what her plan is. All we know is that the followers that she is amassing include Peter (Christopher Denhem) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) who have infiltrated the group to exploit it as the cult-scam they believe it is. Though, as they grow to be one with the group the pair slowly forget why they joined Maggie’s sect, and the line between investigator and disciple blurs.
Although its protagonist/antagonist (Sound Of My Voice can be delightfully ambiguous) claims to be a time traveller the film remains very grounded; exploring a more human drama that focuses on the dilemmas its characters are going through emotionally than on Austrian bodybuilders with a proclivity for nudity and cool one-liners – though, Marling occasionally does dress down and sing popular songs from the 90s.
Marling and Batmanglij don’t stop at their characters when it comes to Cult Counselling 101 either. Through its quiet, minimalist style and absorbing tone the rituals and activities that Maggie asks of her followers are often just as effective on the audience as they are on Peter and Lorna. When Maggie asks her supporters to close their eyes and imagine being a child you feel yourself joining in as you enter the same state of longing as those acting on Maggie’s whim. This immersive style is fun for the most part until one particular activity crops up which (for cleanliness reasons) involves placing a plastic sheet on the floor. Whilst I am certain that Batmanglij and Marling have created the next step in immersive cinema (5D!) I’m not so certain that cinemas will like the cleanup that may come after the audience’s involuntary participation.*
Sound Of My Voice is a well-chaptered and remarkably powerful film full of emotional and dramatic epiphanies that will have you glued to your seat even when the credits roll. A [maybe] sci-fi, pyschological drama that is filled with crisscrossing ideas about divinity and the power of persuasion that impresses far more than most films so far this year.
Although it leaves you with plenty of questions, Sound Of My Voice gives you the tools for some very thoughtful after-film debates and a burning desire to know where its cast and crew will go next.
Sound Of My Voice will be in UK cinemas on 3rd August 2012.
*If this isn’t exactly clear – I am referencing a scene in which the group decides to purge their negativity by putting a finger down their throat. Cue the Mexican wave of sick in the cinema hall.