Imagine this: You get directions to a house in the suburbs where you're instructed to pull into the garage, close the door and await further instructions. A man comes out of the house, takes you inside and orders you to shower and to “be thorough” with the soap. After cleaning yourself and putting on a very New Age white robe, you're blindfolded, zip-cuffed and driven to an undisclosed location in the San Fernando Valley. Then, after doing a complicated secret handshake, you're taken to another room with a dozen other people in robes. Then she appears, the woman you're there to see. Maggie. A beautiful, blonde mystery. Maggie then tells you a story about how she traveled back in time from 2056 to save her friends from a series of calamitous events that will change the world. Maggie has followers, maybe including you now, and she wants to take you to a safe place.
That's only the first 5 minutes of Sound of my Voice, a psychological thriller disguised as a science fiction movie. The film is hypnotic, it put me under its spell within the first few minutes, and when the closing credits started rolling, they almost looked foreign to me, like commerce coming to art in a way that broke me from my spell.
The audience surrogates are Peter and Lorna (played by a post-hipster looking Christopher Denham and the gorgeous Nicole Vicius), investigative journalists making a documentary about Maggie and her steadily growing cult. Denham and Vicius both give fine performances, though the script is much more interested in Peter than Lorna, and director Zal Batmanglij doesn't give her much to do in the third act. Lorna's realization of the danger they're in is almost ignored in favor of watching Peter fall under Maggie's spell.
As excellent as Denham and Vicius are, Brit Marling is spectacular as Maggie. I had just seen Marling in Another Earth. While the film left me underwhelmed, Marling was excellent. In Sound of My Voice, she is mesmerizing, gliding through the frame as beautiful as an angel and as enigmatic as a whisper. Make no mistake, this is a star making performance and Marling, also serving as co-writer, knows exactly how to play a worshipped object while also being a human being. She's going to be huge and it all starts here.
Despite the strong performances, there are shortcomings. The film is frustratingly opaque. The script is much more interested in the mystery it presents than actually exploring any of the interesting questions it raises. Whether Maggie is a time traveler or a fraud is not something I'm willing to let spill here. I will say that for every question that gets answered, three more get raised and some feel more like plot holes than they do charmingly open-ended mysteries. In that sense, it reminded me of Lost (of which I am an obsessive fan), a show that consistently raised fascinating questions, but balked when it finally came time to give us answers. Similarly, Sound of My Voice is packed with mysteries, but when it comes time to put its cards on the table, the film ends anti-climatically and with no fanfare.
Even with the non-ending, it's hard to dispute that Sound of My Voice is a great movie. Just as Maggie’s followers are sucked into her world, the film draws the audience in and never lets go. While the words may ultimately wring hollow, the delivery is compelling enough.
Sound of My Voice
3 1/2 Stars
Starring Christopher Denham, Brit Marling and Nicole Vicius.
Directed by Zal Batmanglij.