Sound Of My Voice

Sound Of My Voice

***1/2

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

We see a collection of guests frisked, bound, blindfolded, washed and led to and from a car to an undisclosed location. They're released in a brightly lit basement. The group leader introduces himself to the group with a strange Mason-like handshake. He's strongly self-confident with shaggy white hair and Himmler glasses - like an eastern guru meets Steve Jobs. There is only one request, "no sudden movements and no questions".

They unveil Maggie (Brit Marling) - she's framed as religious iconography, wrapped in a shawl and lit from behind. Maggie is from the year 2054, where a civil war rages, and in a fairly typical time-travel story, she's here to save as many of "the right people" as she can. "Maggie's taking us to a safe place." one of the group assures us. Maggie cannot eat anything from modern times, snacking on hydroponically grown produce and getting protein from human blood, which is one of her strange (but mostly harmless) demands.

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It's an effective style of theatrical woo-woo - the cultish group know the salesmanship mechanics and skills of persuasion. A husband and wife pair of professional cynics - Peter and Lorna - are undercover, preparing a documentary to expose the group. It's a rather difficult challenge, given the rigorous screening processes.

Kindergarten teacher Peter is carefully controlled, obsessed with math, reason and the self - a driven sort. His mother died from cancer when he was a boy. Lorna was born into a life of glamour but soon became "tired of playing entourage". She lives the "life of a reformed addict, trading one addiction for another".

The film is a chronicle of the cult opening up these wounded cynics, piece by piece, and their explicit intellectual and personal resistance. The cult is an often likeable group of people desperate to believe something, anything beyond themselves. It's a chilling depiction of the human costs and comfort offered by blind faith.

Sound Of My Voice's strongest moments are where the group's peer pressure and Maggie's hypnotic storytelling drives a wedge between the husband and wife. Maggie's interrogation of Peter is a fascinating back and forth - leveraging sexual attraction with effective psychological showmanship. She breaks down the innate barriers of Peter's repressed pain. If she wasn't barmy, she'd make a scarily effective unprofessional therapist. Lorna's not happy about this "intellectual orgasm".

Zal Batmanglij directs his engaging story - co-written with Marling (Another Earth) - with skill and implicit fascination. It's beautifully photographed, minimalist, and the engaging mystery is well-told, until it runs out of steam in the last act. There's a rather pleasing revelation, akin to Bill Paxton's superb debut Frailty, which underlines the innate mysticism of the story.

Reviewed on: 04 Aug 2012
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Sound Of My Voice packshot
Two skeptics set out to debunk a cult surrounding a woman who claims to be from the future.
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Sundance 2011

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