May 2, 2012
Sound of My Voice
More icky and creepily atmospheric than suspenseful, Sound Of My Voice is an fitfully interesting, if under-delivered trip into the recesses of a crazy cult in Los Angeles, led by Maggie, a beautiful, charismatic woman (Brit Marling, who wrote and directed with Zal Batmanglij), who claims to come from the future.
A young couple, he is a journalist and she is a reformed Hollywood producer's spawn, infiltrate the cult to try to expose it. As is to be expected, the skeptic ends up being more vulnerable to the con than his more open girlfriend.
The material about the cult, and how this woman, Maggie, manipulates her acolytes is quite fascinating. Marling gives a quiet, eerie performance, using the hushed, phony-sacred tones of the most annoying yoga teachers, to purge her followers of their own free will. The cult dynamics feel quite authentic, and every time we're in her compound, a pedestrian basement in a generic suburban home -- that is, a wall-to-wall carpeting creep fest -- the movie is mesmerizing. The problem is in the protagonists, played by Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicious, two weak, uncharismatic actors with little chemistry or chops. Maggie's storyline seems to have been given much more attention by the filmmakers, but the couple ends up taking most of the screen time and their dialogue sounds amateurish and undercooked in contrast. Lots of opportunities are wasted to explore their relationship, and it is rather puzzling that their conflict is avoided, instead of being exploited for maximum drama and suspense.
Some of the plotting is clunky and the pacing is too slow for a movie that promises to be suspenseful. I can understand why the scenes at the cult are shot in real time, to enhance the oppressive isolation of those in the basement; but they go on too long and the tension in the movie fizzles out. The final ironic twist was another disappointment. A good final ironic twist should deepen and illuminate, confound expectations in a felicitous way, but this one feels just lame, particularly when the movie makes clear that Maggie is a fraud. In the hands of more canny directors, the ending could have been a nail biter, but it falls totally flat. Still, there is a lot that is interesting in Sound of My Voice, particularly the stubbornly uncommercial yen to explore dark corners in sunny places, and the strong, impressive presence of Brit Marling, a promising new actress.