Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Film Review: The Sound of My Voice

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Somewhere in Los Angeles lives a woman who claims that she came from the future. Around her, a small cult-like group starts to grow, composed of people who actually believe her. More importantly, they believe in her.

For me, one of the key features of any good independent film is a successful acclimatization to the budget that is available. A lot of films have great ambitions, but the money that is at their disposal simply cannot transfer those ambitions in the right way to the big screen. Therefore, any indie filmmaker must be flexible, just like Zal Batmanglij in this case, especially if they’re interested in a genre like (or near) science fiction.

Sound of My Voice perfectly performs in the budget department. The beginning of the film shows a man and a woman in ordinary houses, who bathe and clean themselves, put on a pair of white robes, and then some unknown man puts plastic handcuffs and blindfolds on them. Blind and restrained, they are ushered into a van, which should lead them to an ordinary house. There, in the basement, the woman awaits them, and the movie kicks into gear in this everyday surroundings.

As a psychological thriller, the film works flawlessly. The mentioned man and a woman are Peter and Lorna, a couple who wants to enter this strange world and become a part of it. But actually, they intend to film an uncovered documentary about this woman and her followers.

Soon, they meet Maggie, the woman in question, and start to get involved in different psychological exercises and work with her other attendants. As the plot unfolds, the motivations of the main characters get more confusing, and Maggie’s knowledge of the human condition begins to erode their original intentions.

Most of the film was shot in empty rooms, with no windows and no natural light. This is a great stage for actress Brit Marling who plays Maggie. Here, surrounded by followers in white robes, she presents an impressive range - a woman who at one point seems sublime, gentle, forgiving and even holy in the other looks like an ordinary person eager to make jokes. A few minutes later, she is transformed into a hostile psychoanalyst who attacks other people's personal pasts, but never reveals much about the difficult future that supposedly awaits the humanity.

However, Maggie does everything with understanding and acceptance, which is a trait shared by many real spiritual and religious leaders. Marling captured this conflicted personality exceptionally. At the same time, very wisely, the film refuses to talk about cults and sects in general, and instead chooses to speak more about loneliness and sadness that makes people gravitate towards these kinds of gatherings

As the story develops, so do Lorne and Peter, while Maggie remains a distant figure. For those viewers who seek a compact mystery resolution in this film, the ending may seem disappointing. That doesn’t diminish its very heartfelt exploration of an unpleasant topic (cult leaders and its members in their infancy).

Sound of My Voice shows that an intriguing story, a handful of talented actors and a well-lit basement are enough for a very good film.