Ambiguity and claustrophobia are two words that never leave you whilst watching Sound Of My Voice. You rarely see daylight; you are kept in confined spaces and are privy to almost no information until the second scene of the film. The slow tension that builds throughout creates an unnerving feeling that makes viewing the film all the more uncomfortable. Slow and steady performances from lead roles Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) keep the poignant tone constant throughout the film, accurately conveying the emotions of the somewhat confused audience.
Sound Of My Voice opens with a couple pulling into a garage of a suburban LA home, closing the door behind them and ‘waiting for further instruction’. A silent and unnerving looking man pulls them out of the car, removes their personal effects and guides them to a small shower room. After the cleansing, they are blindfolded and cuffed with plastic straps, and driven to yet another location. Dressed in white the two recruits are led into a basement, where they act out the secret handshake they have been practising in the outside world, and they are introduced to Maggie (Brit Marling). Veiled, dressed in white cotton and dragging an oxygen tank behind her, Maggie’s unexplained character immediately overshadows any other.
Only then we are given the premise of the film. Maggie claims to be from the year 2054, as signified by the numbered anchor tattoos all over her body (an anchor being the symbol of a traveller). The leader of the cult goes on to explain that in her time, the US has fallen into destruction, with a violent civil war splitting the nation in two and killing the majority of the population. She doesn’t know why, but she was sent back to the previous generation, to warn the world and raise awareness about the upcoming tragedy. Taken in by believer Klaus, Maggie tells the group that she has spent months gathering recruits to spread her message.
Fans who like their time-travelling epics complete with aliens, time portals and reckless space-cowboys will not find much enjoyment in Sound Of My Voice, a film that is essentially a pared down indie flick with a sci-fi backdrop. Faith is a tricky subject to battle in a film such as this, as it relies entirely on the audience believing in the belief of the characters. Honesty and true devotion are hard to convey, and whilst directing duo Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling show an understanding of the emotions behind the blind faith associated with cults such as this, they don’t manage to fully persuade the audience to give the possibility of time-travel a chance.
Batmanglij and Marling bravely attempt to guide two subplots alongside the already complex main story; but let the spinning plates drop as nowhere near enough detail is provided to give the extra characters the depth and intrigue they deserve. Satisfaction can be found when these subplots culminate in the explosive final scene, creating chaos with the audience’s preformed beliefs, but more time is needed with the characters in order to empathise with their difficult lives.
What ultimately pulls focus is Brit Marling’s performance. Playing Maggie could have been an overwhelming undertaking for Marling, having to balance the character’s never ending layers of urgency, frustration and slight melancholia mixed with the hypnotic tranquillity she possesses, but Marling took on the role with real aplomb. Marling’s natural ethereal beauty helped with the part, as her eyes do hold a mesmerising quality, but it was the actress’ ability to underplay that stole the show. Giving small hints toward her own fickle humanity (lighting up a cigarette and declaring “I’m from the future, I’m not a saint”) and expressing real joy and excitement keep the character from becoming too other-worldly and unbelievable.
The acting in Sound Of My Voice is superb and, thanks to director/writer Zal Batmanglij’s rare talent, the film has an unexpected polish and attention to detail in every frame, proving that a low-budget indie flick can still achieve that Hollywood shine. The soundtrack, written by Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij (brother to the director), is truly beautiful and perfectly encapsulates the bizarre and mesmerising atmosphere of the story. As for the plot, it is, in part, overly confused and does lose its way for a great section of the film. More questions are posed than answered, we never discover how Klaus came to know about the time-traveller and why sought her out, and Maggie’s aim behind gathering a community is never really tackled. The actors’ outstanding performances are the main reason why the film as a whole remains so compelling, as they bring a great amount of empathy to their respective roles. Although it’s visually breathtaking and an example of genre-bending at its most creative, At 84 minutes long, Sound Of My Voice is too short to tackle the heavyweight subject of time-travel and its infinite consequences.
Sound Of My Voice is in cinemas nationwide from the 3rd of August.
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