Sound of My Voice Only Sounds Intriguing
- Friday, June 01, 2012
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: April 27, 2012 (limited); June 1, 2012 (wider)
Rating: R (for strong language including some sexual references, and brief drug use)
Run Time: 85 min.
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Actors: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling, Avery Pohl
Sound of My Voice is about the mesmerizing power of a cult-leader over a small group of dumbstruck converts, and it serves as a pretty good metaphor for the hold its co-writer/star Brit Marling seems to wield over film critics and indie film aficionados. After two movies so far I can certainly understand her allure but remain one of the few still not drinking the Kool-Aid.
Marling became the latest indie It Girl after the debut of Another Earth at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which she also co-wrote and starred in, and now her follow-up, Sound of My Voice, has received the same acclaim both at Sundance and the Rotten Tomatoes collective. Each boasts the same strengths—a fascinating narrative hook and the enigmatic Marling—but also the same weakness: once you get past the surface of the two strengths, there’s nothing “there” there.
If anything, Marling’s slightly regressed from her previous film; that, at least, had the virtue of an original premise. This one, while also interesting, is something we’ve seen before albeit with a sci-fi twist: Maggie (played by Marling), the would-be cult leader, claims she’s from about 50 years in the future. She’s come back to warn those with ears to hear about the impending apocalypse and how to survive it. A young investigative journalist and his girlfriend (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) attempt to infiltrate the group and expose Maggie as a hoax before she requires her disciples to do anything too crazy like, say, a mass suicide.
Intrigued? I was. Then, like Another Earth, it takes that intriguing concept and does nothing with it. Or more accurately, the script fleshes it out with very generic story beats we’ve seen before, peddling a rather flaky form of pop psychology way too earnestly—one that relies on tired “mommy and daddy issues” and Big Brother fears to manipulate and brainwash—and, worst of all, inexplicably undercuts the very atmosphere of frightening control it strives to create.
The first two missteps go hand-in-hand. Maggie’s spiritual practices and prophetic teachings are nothing more than insipid New Age-y nonsense, talking and thinking in vagaries that only the most impressionable would perceive as deep and mysterious. This Krishna-esque pablum is hard to take seriously, as is the arc of the cynical journalist slowly falling under Maggie’s spell. That journalist is our way into the story, and to be an effective film we have to be as seduced as he is. We’re not, but co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij’s humorless style sure expects us to be. With a gravely ominous tone, Marling andBatmanglij think we’ll buy into it all (or at least find it plausible)—an assumption that’s as pretentious as the completely pointless chapter numbers that segment each sequence.
Then there’s the other problem: Maggie and her henchmen are way too toothless to be intimidating. Sure, they act intimidating, but behind the weight of her unblinking transcendental gaze and their domineering glares there’s no real threat to exert control. If you don’t do the weird things they ask they’ll, what, kick you out? Oh, the horror. You better vomit on cue cuz, you know, everyone else is doing it. It’s coercion by nothing more than peer pressure, where the most lethal weapon is name-calling.
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