Tuesday 20 November 2012

Review: Sound of my Voice

Year: 2012
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenplay: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius

Synopsis is here:

There is a certain something that peaked and kept my interest about Sound of my Voice. I think much of it stemmed from Brit Marling's unnerving performance as a leader of a pseudo-scientific basement cult. Her role as Maggie is a charismatic one in a similar way to John Hawkes' role in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Their soft spoken voices are laced with a sensuality that makes it very easy to understand why young intelligent people, fall deeply under their charms. The waif like Marling isn't some drop dead stunning starlet, but there is a temping allure in her voice that attracts you to her. You want to tell her secrets. When one character exclaims that their partner gets an emotional orgasm when speaking to her, it doesn't sound as absurd as when written on paper. The reason why cults are so scary is that they seduce the mind. The body falls quickly afterwards.

Oh, if only all of the movie was as enthralling as this. Sound of my voice gets you going with a teasing prospect and then leaves you by the way side. Part of the problem is that compared to other recent movies about cults, it doesn't have the energy. Compare this to the aforementioned Martha Marcy May Marlene, and you realise that the performances of the protagonists just aren't up to scratch. Place it side by side next to The Master, and you see that no scene matches the same kind of intensity or foreboding. Some scenes ignite interest, some drag, but at least the film gets points for reaching. I didn't find myself as distanced as I did in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Maybe because it didn't feel as much as an exercise.

Unlike the Manson folk edge of Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the Scientology leanings of The Master,   Sound of my Voice seems to take a more direct sci-fi route, which may remind some the Heaven's Gate cult.   Our protagonists infiltrate the group in order to try and make a feature film exposing it. The leader; Maggie, claims that she is a sickly time traveller, who is preparing them for an upcoming "event" that will reshape the earth radically. The group meet up repeatedly and prepare with cleansing rituals, purging "intellectual bullshit" metaphorically through spewing up apples and other oddball exercises which remind me slightly of the episode of Peep Show where Mark joins the Rainbow Rhythms dance class to try and pull Sophie. There's a more than a small amount of silliness about one or two of the exercises, however, they do help show just how deep these people are involved and how willing. A scene in which our male lead, Peter, is subtlety broken down by Maggie is a pivotal and telling one. Maggie's ability to say just the right things to stimulate him is quietly troubling.

Unfortunately, it's not surprising, as the route in which our leads go, is telegraphed quite quickly. The scenes between them do little to elevate the story emotionally, mostly because while these characters are vulnerable, they're not particularly interesting. The film lacks the forcefulness that comes into play in other cult movies. Because of this, it imbalances the films climax, I didn't actually mind but yearned for more punch. If only everything was as compelling as Marling. A co-writer of the film, it feels a little like she wrote the best parts for herself.