City Paper is not for tourists
Sound of My Voice suggests there will soon be something known as a “Brit Marling kind of movie.” Zal Batmanglij wrote his directorial debut with Marling, his fellow Georgetown University graduate and the film’s star. Marling had her breakout role in Another Earth, the 2011 film that she also co-wrote, and Sound of My Voice seems to channel that film’s tone and structure. It’s quiet. Eerie. Transfixing. It wraps up on a perfect, efficient note that may just make you gasp.
And it’s creepy from the start. In the film’s beginning chapter, two wannabe documentarians, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), drive into a stranger’s garage under cover of night. A man emerges and hands them robes and soap with which to shower, stressing they have to “be thorough with the soap.” Then they’re handcuffed, blindfolded, and shepherded into a van with another couple. Arriving at an unknown location, they’re directed into a basement where they greet a man with long gray hair with a seriously complex, Patty Cake-like handshake. Robed strangers sit cross-legged. Beige carpeting never looked so frightening. They’re all told: “No sudden movements, and no questions for tonight.”
Soon a figure enters from another room—slightly hunched over, veiled, dragging an oxygen tank. It’s fucking weird. So when she looks up and greets everyone with a simple “hi,” it’s a relief. It’s only Maggie, guys.
Played by Marling, Maggie is sensitive to food and chemicals—hence the O2 and the hygiene rules—because Maggie, you see, is from the year 2054, and our present moment doesn’t jibe with her futuristic needs.
How or why a cult formed around Maggie isn’t exactly addressed, but she believes she’s traveled back in time to help people, well, live better lives, I suppose. Her sessions with the group mimic therapy, particularly an intense (and a bit too knowing) exchange with Peter regarding his childhood and “who stole his power.” What Peter tells her is also dubious: It sounds real, and he cries and even vomits on cue. (The rest of the group had just vomited apples that Maggie told them to eat and then said represented “logic and intellectual bullshit.” She’s all about Eden-like spirituality, apparently.) Peter seems shaken, but later he tells Lorna it was all a lie. Lorna’s not convinced.
As Peter and Lorna continue their research, each one takes a turn getting semi-sucked in and before pronouncing it all a con. Lorna wants to stop making the doc because she thinks it’s too dangerous, but Peter has this thing about wanting to do something noteworthy with his life—or does he just want to keep seeing Maggie? Most of the rest of the group—save for a guy who dares question a song she says is from “the future”—are under her spell. When Peter has blood drawn by a fellow member (again, it’s unclear why), she tells Peter in an attempt to relax him, “Just think about Maggie.”
As a cult leader, Marling is frighteningly perfect. Her tone is soothing, her face friendly and open. Maggie knows when to play one-of-the-gang and when to project superiority. In its serene mysteriousness, the film occasionally recalls another cult-focused film, last year’s Martha Marcy Mae Marlene. There’s almost no music; you’re constantly waiting for someone to say “boo!”—or at least, as in Martha Marcy, to freak out. Just when you think you’ve pulled the sheet off of Maggie’s con, the film throws you and its characters back into uncertainty. What is certain is Marling’s future as a writer and an actress. She may soon be claiming a cult of her own.