“Sound of My Voice” is a sort-of sci-fi film, in that it includes the concept of time travel but never really talks about it or shows it.
It's actually a well-crafted, low-budget relationship movie that examines what draws people to a cult.
The movie stars Brit Marling, an actress who decided the best way to get decent parts in Hollywood was to write them for herself. She co-wrote this one with director Zal Batmanglij.
Her previous sort-of sci-fi movie that's really about relationships, which she also co-wrote, is “Another World,” which opened here last year and was better than this. Both movies were the talk of the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, making Marling something of an “it” girl.
In “Sound of My Voice,” young lovers Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) have infiltrated a cult with the intention of making a documentary that exposes it as a fraud.
They are instructed to shower, dressed in white hospital gowns, blindfolded and transported to a suburban Los Angeles basement. Peter goes so far as to swallow a tiny transmitter to smuggle out sound or pictures.
Both have emotionally difficult pasts. He lost his mother at a young age, while a promiscuous model-actress brought her up. We're perhaps told this so we'll have some doubt about their psychological stability, but it's one of many threads included in the movie that become dead ends.
The movie is divided into numbered segments, perhaps because it was planned as an online serial. The unexplained numbers are a distraction for a full-length narrative feature.
Once in the basement with a small circle of reverent followers, Peter and Lorna meet Maggie (Marling), who claims to come from the year 2054. She says she stays in the basement, attached to oxygen, because of allergies to the present-day environment.
As she did in “Another World,” Marling exudes a magnetic, ethereal charisma that keeps you mesmerized whenever she's onscreen. Maggie worms her way into Peter's head, creating space between him and Lorna after only a few basement sessions.
A couple of scenes between Peter and Maggie are the movie's most compelling, as she pushes him to succumb to her will.
Is she what she claims to be? That's the question the movie wants you, along with Peter and Lorna, to keep asking right up to the final frame.
I felt a little cheated when that final frame came around. The movie ultimately turns out to be a bit of an empty exercise, but it's so well-acted I didn't mind much until that gimmicky ending.
Marling and Batmanglij have created three intriguing characters and raise interesting psychological questions, and they do it well on a dime. She may be someone to watch, a creative force and a compelling onscreen presence.
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