Brit Marling shines in this creepy cult sci-fi movie that has its genre cake and eats it.
Two wannabe documentary filmmakers attempting to expose a cult leader and her weirdy-beardy apocalypse group find themselves drawn deeper into the organisation. Maggie (Brit Marling) is an enigmatic and gorgeous young woman claiming to be a time traveller. She spouts the usual death and destruction prophecies which her acolytes lap up, but is she actually telling the truth?
Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature cleverly toys with audience expectation to the very end. The couple, Peter and Lorna, get off on secretly filming private cult counseling sessions, yet their arrogance gives way to doubt. Lorna (Nicole Vicius) feels the urge to get out and quit while they’re ahead, whereas Peter (Chris Denham) seems hell bent on uncovering a profound realisation or terrible fraud. This character dynamic: the choice between running away and the grip of a mystery allows for an insidious atmosphere to build.
As a sci-fi movie, Sound of My Voice is the antithesis of the cut-and-dried Hollywood style genre effort that packs in gigantic CG explosions, very little characterisation and is calibrated to satisfy a peculiar lust for on-screen carnage. The base desires of the modern blockbuster are entirely absent here, and instead, Batmanglij achieves effective, subtle results.
Marling is superb as Maggie. One moment she’s all ethereal and kindly, and the next, she's bullying her minions into a grotesquely staged mass vomiting session. This horrific scene convincingly implies her power comes from manipulating the emotional vulnerability of others. She might well pose as a prophet, but she’s definitely no saint.
Peter’s ‘role’ evolves into a clear parallel with famous betrayer Judas Iscariot. The blossoming relationship, too, between Maggie and her shady servant is also underplayed with a neat frisson of sexual attraction that again questions how genuine or manipulative these characters can be.
Batmanglij, rather than discard genre trappings, allows them to breathe. The puzzle of Maggie’s origins is what gives Sound of My Voice plenty of narrative tension. The final, pivotal scene, which apes Christ’s betrayal in the garden of Gethsemene, is beautifully handled and packed with emotion, allowing for a finish where fresh uncertainty blows away the third act’s case for rationality.
Cult drama meets sci-fi starring the actress from Another Earth. Count us intrigued.
Brit Marling is an actress you can’t take your eyes off.
A few clumsy but forgivable moments aside, this is a subtle and downright creepy film.