“Somewhere in the valley, there is a woman living in a basement. She’s actually amassing followers. These people believe that she will actually lead them to salvation, or whatever. And yes, she’s dangerous – but we have to see this thing through. All the way.”
When The Sound Of My Voice opens you really don’t know what to expect. We watch a group of people acting almost as though they have been taken hostage. They are given drab clothes to wear and ordered to clean themselves very thoroughly. They are then bound and hooded and placed into a van for transport to where? Soon we discover that these people have not been abducted at all. They have done these things willingly so that they may be brought into the presence of Maggie (Marling) who claims to be from the year 2054. Her disciples gather around her in a circle as she delivers her enigmatic teachings. Then again, perhaps they are captives after all, but not in the manner you might expect. They are obviously captivated by Maggie’s personality, and we soon discover that they fear banishment from her side more than anything else. They are there for enlightenment, of sorts. The earlier routine has been put in place because Maggie is apparently allergic to our time and is dying. She must maintain a germ-free environment at all costs. She’s more than a religious leader. She’s a martyr who just hasn’t died yet. Yet her subjects would gladly die for her.
But there are two subjects among her who are not there for the same reason as the others. Peter (Denham) and Lorna (Vicius) are there under false pretences. They are amateur filmmakers who have infiltrated the cult in order to expose Maggie. They soon discover they are obviously in over their heads. Maggie’s charisma is harder to resist than they initially suspected. It causes tension between the couple. It all must come to a head when Maggie requests that Peter deliver a young girl, a student of his, to her. Abigail (Pohl) is an odd young girl who says little and spends her free moments at home building large black towers out of Legos. The connection between Abigail and Maggie could be the key to unraveling just who Maggie really is.
It’s hard not to compare The Sound Of My Voice with Another Earth. Both were written by Brit Marling, who also acts in both films. Both films also share a very tenuous science fiction angle which is not really descriptive of the movie at all. Both films are also quite artsy and intended largely for the film festival crowd. While Another Earth received a bit more mainstream buzz, I found this lesser-known film to be the superior of the two films.
That’s not to say that either have tremendous mainstream or commercial potential.
The film is divided into chapters of sorts. At least segments are labeled with written numbers that appear to identify crucial moments in the film’s progression. The chapter gimmick is totally unnecessary, however, and really adds nothing to the narrative at all. If anything I found them rather distracting as I found myself looking for the significance of these rather uneven breaks. If there was one to be found I did not stumble upon it.
It’s a slow-burn film, to be sure. There are limited locations, and the film relies quite heavily on the performance of the cast. Brit Marling is obviously intimately familiar with the material and does a pretty convincing job of playing Maggie. I found that I could completely understand why these people might be attracted to her, inasmuch as anyone is drawn to a charismatic cult leader. The dialog is mysterious enough that we really don’t know where Maggie is going with all of this. She drops hints that there is a journey ahead, and of course, you begin to fear the worst. We’ve seen enough of the aftermath of a Jim Jones type of cult to easily imagine the endgame here. I won’t spoil the final result here except to acknowledge that it raises as many questions as the rest of the film does. Still, the film plays on those cultivated fears. It’s also a film that plays as much to quiet and silence as it does to sound. Thoughtful pauses or moments of Maggie’s soothing voice paint an effective style to keep you engaged even while not actually engaging you at all.
The other major driving force of the film is found in the relationship of Peter and Lorna. They begin this adventure of one mind and willing to go pretty far to “make a difference”. We watch them drift apart and begin to travel in different directions. Again it’s all in the performance, and fortunately the actors are up to the challenge.
Sound Of My Voice is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. Remember that this is essentially a no-budget film. The importance of this high-definition image presentation won’t be found in bright shiny images. The lighting is subdued and colors are almost non-existent. Simplicity is the order of the day here. The disciples are clothed in drab white and tan as is Maggie herself. Surroundings are drab as well. The image is clear and clean. That’s really all it needs to be.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as simplistic. There isn’t much of a score or surrounding sounds. If you’re looking for dynamic subs or ear candy, this isn’t going to satisfy you at all. Even the dialog is rather hushed. You can hear it, likely because there isn’t anything else really competing for your attention.
The Making Of Sound Of My Voice: (4:15) Cast and crew offer very brief tidbits on the film. It’s not so much a behind the scenes effort as an attempt to explain the idea of it. It’s too short to offer much of anything however.
Maggie Featurette: (3:00) Really a promo piece that focuses on the character of Maggie.
Fox Movie Channel Presents – Director Zal Batmangilj: (4:58) An episode of the show. It plays out in annoying mini-frames.
While I did find the film thought-provoking and rather interesting, I also found myself bothered by its obvious narcissistic nature. Marling has basically written a character study that puts her pretty much front and center. As on Another Earth she appears to write almost entirely as vehicles for herself. It’s a small nitpick, I agree. There’s no question that she’s given herself a role that is, in a word, “mesmerizing”.