Monday 16 March 2015

Sound Of My Voice

Culting Edge

Sound Of My Voice 
2011 USA
Directed by Zal Batmanglij
20th Century Fox 
DVD Region 2

Warning: Very minor spoilers and, perhaps, some intriguing 
and compelling reasons for you to check this movie out.

Still on my Brit Marling kick, it seems, after first discovering her in the movie The East (reviewed here), rediscovering her in the beyond excellent I Origins (reviewed here) and further compounding my obsession with her performances in the amazing Another Earth (reviewed here). Sound of My Voice once again finds her in a film she’s co-written with a director (as she did on The East and Another Earth) and in this one she plays the part of the main antagonist... if you can call Maggie, the character she plays, such a strong word. My personal take on this movie is that you can do that but, honestly, this movie is not a stranger to the idea of an audience taking away with them what they also bring... I’ll briefly touch on that a little later.

I’ve read synopses which describe this movie as being shot like a documentary but, take it from me, it really isn’t. I don’t know if people are getting confused about that because it employs a lot of hand held camera footage or whether it’s because the two main protagonists, a young couple, are documentary film-makers. It’s not something I can really comment on. The two characters in question are called Peter, as played by Christopher Denham, and Lorna, as played by Nicole Vicius and they, like all the actors and actresses in this film, are absolutely brilliant. Playing their characters as naturalistically as possible to augment the “fly on the wall” kind of reality you get from the hand held camera work and the choice of footage used in the final cut.

Peter and Lorna have spent a lot of time trying to penetrate into the heart of a secret cult run by the mysterious Maggie, played by the aforementioned Brit Marling, who is a phenomenal presence in this movie, even though our sympathies are with Peter and Lorna for the duration of the film. It starts with Peter and Lorna going through the dubious steps required, including blindfolded and restrained travel followed by a very long and ritualistic secret handshake, to get to their first meeting... along with other new ‘recruits’ into Maggie’s cult following. As the film progresses, the issues of how a leader of such a cult comes to have a large amount of power over her followers and the ways in which trust, influence and persuasion break down a follower’s resistance to the idea of the leader’s spiel is explored as we see Maggie using various methods to gain the respect and awe of the majority of her followers.

Her initial hook to her group of new recruits is simple... she is a traveller from the year 2054, who has somehow, beyond her understanding, awoken in our time and is amassing followers she can lead to survive the struggle which she knows is ahead for the human race as a species. Which, you have to admit, is a good hook. However, it doesn’t wear out its welcome as quickly as you might think because the film, in a very brief time, takes you on a journey of discovery along with Peter and Lorna and doesn’t present the information in as clear cut or straightforward manner as you would need to make a quick judgement on the truth, or possibly lack of, in Maggie’s words and pitch.

Actually, maybe that’s a bad way to put it. The film very much starts you off in the camp that, yes, this is all a con but the brilliance of the movie is such that it leaves you in a place where you’re both not quite sure what you just watched and where there is no real closure to be had unless you have very strong opinions about the characters... one way or another.

There are three strands to the movie and the main strand is Peter and Lorna trying to get a scoop on the cult and hopefully put a stop to Maggie’s influence over her followers in the hopes that nobody will be harmed. However, there are also two other things going on, one with a little girl in the school that Peter teaches at for his day job and another of a lady who may, or may not, be working for a government intelligence agency... although this is certainly how she presents herself when she asks Lorna to help her gain access to Maggie towards the end of the movie. The thing is, the doubt as to whether Maggie is actually telling the truth or not, after she treats certain members of her congregation quite ruthlessly in certain scenes and which make you believe she certainly isn’t who she claims to be, stems from the intersection of both the little girl at school and the government agent’ strands of the story line.

I’m very happy to say that Batmanglij and Marlin give you no easy, clear cut answers. The possible identity of the little girl, which I won’t reveal here, and something she does towards the end of the movie certainly pitch the story in a certain direction but, one of the things you have to remember and which the audience has been primed for all the way through, is that the way these kinds of cult leaders usually operate is by conning their audience of followers and, because of that basic air of caution thrown in to the mix where this film is concerned, you can’t rule out any possibility that the little girl is already a part of the con and perhaps that’s the reason for her seemingly frequent periods of narcolepsy at school. Are they genuine or are they because she’s been staying up until the small hours every night.

The other element is the government agent, who gives Lorna a very definite spin but who has already gone into full James Bond mode when it comes to taking precautions in her hotel room in a scene earlier in the movie. It seems innocent enough when the character first reveals herself to Lorna but, when you think back on the film, you wonder if perhaps there’s also a connection with this character and our future in the year 2054.

The film is part of a proposed trilogy of movies about Maggie but it’s been made clear that the writers aren’t expecting to get any funding to make a second or third movie in the sequence... I get the impression this wasn’t a big hit at the box office and, in some ways, I can see why. This movie won’t be giving you any real closure and, as you probably know, a lot of people don’t like the absence of the plot ‘all finished off’ and packaged nicely with a gift tag saying “this is what just happened”.

And then you think about the follower who takes Lorna into the woods and what she shows her there and you think... well hang on a minute. What, really, is going on here?

My one and only piece of negative criticism of Sound Of My Voice is that there’s a point towards the end where Lorna makes a decision (again, I’m not going to tell you what it is) which is motivated by the actions of Peter, but which seem, to me at least, to be way too hasty in terms of what we know about the history of these two characters and it does seem a little rushed when, honestly, the film could have afforded to spend a little more time exploring the building up and exploration of Lorna’s motivations at this point.

That being said, you can’t fault the performances, the direction, the camera work or the editing and it’s certainly a film which I would recommend to anyone interested in cinema as both art and entertainment (not that I really believe there’s any difference between those two terms, in point of fact). So there you have it, a film which may, or may not, be a science fiction film but which is, certainly, a true gem of a character piece with personalities you can believe in. A big clap to all the artists involved and I hope, someday, somebody will stump up some cash so we can really find out what happens to Maggie... and what year she’s from.

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