It’s not like each person or their loved ones’ lives are threatened if they don’t do as they’re told; the most dire consequence is they might be embarrassed. They’re not even trapped on a closed commune; members live their normal daily lives out in the open and voluntarily come to night meetings. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and buy that the most highly impressionable people would cripple in that environment, but as an effective tension-builder for a movie it’s completely lame.

The only way this works as credible is if Maggie comes off as that hypnotic of a leader. Marling, as an actress, has the presence to pull it off. As a writer, she’s given herself little to work with. She starts with a strong core attribute—her alleged status as a person from the future—that gives her a potential inherent authority, one that can’t be questioned; she should know enough to be convincing. Instead, Maggie dances around questions about the future and the past that should be easy softballs (or, at least, lies), but her evasion only serves to foster skepticism (in us) rather than squelch it.

More than likely, Marling’s banking on the same thing she did in her last movie: a climactic punch that’s supposed to make you question all that you’ve just watched and have it resonate in a whole new way. The problem is that there’s nothing substantial to look back on or rethink, no compelling philosophies or ideas, no insights or provocations. If Maggie had anything meaningful to say along the way, the implications of the end would’ve had an impact. But since all she ever spoke was ethereal hokum then what we’re left with is a clever punctuation and nothing more.

The shortcomings in Sound of My Voice are best exemplified by comparisons to two recent indie pics that broached similar concepts in thought-provoking ways: Martha Marcy May Marlene (the seductive power of a cult leader) and Take Shelter (are the claims of a troubled person crazy or for real?). Both films told fairly simple stories that dove deep into characters and ideas. Sound of My Voice does the exact opposite, poorly.

Nevertheless, Brit Marling remains a filmmaking voice to be reckoned with. Her potential is clearly there, and her ability to have two different directors essentially do her artistic bidding is all but unheard of; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a screenwriter/non-director attributed auteur qualities as she has been and actually deserve the classification. But right now her movies still feel like senior thesis projects, and unless she starts surrounding herself with collaborators that challenge her rather than follow her, Marling’s work will never deserve to be elevated beyond cult status.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Cocaine is snorted in one scene.
  • Language/Profanity: Variations of the s-word. The f-word is used once. The c-word is used once (the feminine sexual epithet). Another c-word referring to semen.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Close-ups of a woman while she showers, with no explicit nudity. Nude woman out of a shower seen in full body profile, with breasts covered by long hair. Man’s head is put under a woman’s shirt during a passionate scene. Passionate kissing. Men do pushups while nude.
  • Violence: A group of people self-induce vomiting.