Review: Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice centers on an investigative couple Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) determined to find out the truth behind a mysterious cult somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and its enigmatic leader Maggie (Brit Marling).  Maggie claims to be from the future, and has amassed quite a following of devoted followers, willing to give their time, blood and love to Maggie in exchange for merely being around her, basking in her presence. But is Maggie a fraudulent leader sent to harm, or truly a time traveler from the future with a message of salvation?

Peter and Lorna seek out Maggie with some idea of making a documentary about debunking her, going through rigorous cleansing rituals before even being allowed into her presence. Though many seek her, few are deemed worthy.  The other members of the cult are clearly invested in protecting Maggie, given to threats and warnings, while all is light and peace inside the unknown compound. As Lorna and Peter become ever more increasingly involved in the cult, more is demanded of them as jealousy, fear and belief begin to tear their own relationship apart. When Maggie asks for an unthinkable and dangerous pledge, will their faith be justified or rendered meaningless?

The low-budget independant film is co-written by Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij and centers heavily on carefully constructed dialogue and haunting visuals, spare though they may be. The cult members are dressed all in white, Maggie is beautiful and strange, the images of her wandering around Los Angeles some of the most memorable committed to film in a long while. It's rare and lovely to see Los Angeles in this light, the home of time travelers and cult members, and we're shown sides of it not often seen by the careful camera work of Rachel Morrison.

There's an unshakeable sense of uneasiness as one never knows precisely what might occur, and the truth is almost impossible to discern. The minute you think you understand the real nature of Maggie and her discipleship, the entire enterprise is turned on its head and you're left rebuilding your understanding yet again. A surprising and compelling film co-written by Marling as was her last starring feature, Another Earth. Marling's acting is pitch perfect, eerie and warm all in a single moment, treading the all too familiar religious line between fear and adoration.

One of the most enjoyable cult films in recent memory, Sound of My Voice is a terrific glimpse into the unknown, a peripheral vision of the difficulty in ever knowing the depths of another human and a troubling look at what it is to believe unconditionally. While other films muddle about trying to force a plot or make you like the characters, Sound of My Voice confronts essential questions of authenticity, and asks you to believe what you cannot know for certain.

Grade: B+