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Sound of My Voice

Year: 2011
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writer: Zal Batmanglij/Brit Marling
Cast: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius

Many other films that deal with indoctrination into a cult would have more movement, more action less subtlety and a much more overarching view of what's going on.

Zal Batmanglij again co-writes with and directs Brit Marling, and he zeroes right in on the characters of Peter (Christopher Denham), Lorna (Nicole Vicius) and Maggie (Marling), drip feeding details about who they are and what they're all doing there.

The film starts with Peter and Lorna being blindfolded, driven to a suburban garage and led downstairs to a hidden basement. They eventually meet Maggie, clad in a white swath of muslin and speaking in soft tones like the Virgin Mary.

If you haven't read a synopsis online or have no idea what the film's about you'll only gradually be aware that they're joining a cult and that Maggie is the benevolent but firm leader.

But Sound of My Voice takes even longer to relinquish details. Peter and Lorna are actually documentary filmmakers, there to secretly film and record the goings on and expose the whole thing. And Maggie claims she's travelled from the future, waking up naked and lost one day and stumbling around the city until she discovered her purpose.

There's a thriller aspect as Peter and Lorna ingratiate themselves further into the life of the cult and Maggie's teachings while trying to get to the bottom of it all, but it's very slight and has little danger or thrills in the traditional sense.

Before long it changes into something else as Peter – who started out as the determined skeptic – starts to believe in what Maggie's peddling, against his better judgement. There are subplots about a quiet, reserved kid in Peter's class (his day job is a schoolteacher) who eventually turns out to be connected to the whole thing and a federal agent investigating the cult, but it takes a long time for those strands to become tied to the rest of the story.

Mostly it's just about a quiet, languid mood, helped in no small part by Marling. She's as brilliant as ever as Maggie, a soul beyond her years who speaks in a comforting voice and who's every word and gesture exudes class. She's a naturally prestigious presence on film and couldn't play a bikini-clad serial killer victim any more than most starlets in film today could play a role like she does here.

It's not as narratively cohesive as their first film Another Earth, and you'll spend a lot of time just soaking it up rather than understand what's going on. It leaves plenty of things – including the climax – ambiguous, which a lot of people will find frustrating, but it's very high quality.

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