SOUND OF MY VOICE
DIRECTED BY Zal Batmanglij
STARS Brit Marling, Christopher Denham
More often than not, it's a compliment to state that a particular film could stand to be longer, since it generally means that either the characters or the storylines are so compelling that we don't want our visit to their celluloid world to end. In the case of Sound of My Voice, though, this statement is meant as criticism rather than praise. While a lumbering turkey like Battleship has the audacity to run 130 minutes, this indie effort doesn't even hit the 90-minute mark (it stops at 85), and an extra 20 or so ticks would appear to be necessary to bring some sort of satisfactory closure to the tale.
Occasionally similar enough to last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene that we half-wonder when John Hawkes will wander into the frame, this concerns itself with the efforts of two would-be documentarians, Peter (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), to infiltrate a California cult and expose its leader, the sickly and soft-spoken Maggie (Brit Marling), as a fraud. Maggie claims to have come back to our time from the mid-21st century, and she's gathering followers to prepare for the future. Peter and Lorna are initially skeptical, but as they listen to Maggie's soothing speeches and participate in her soul-building exercises, they start to wonder if there's more to this presumed loony than meets the eye.
Ambiguity in cinema can be a wonderful thing — frankly, not enough stateside filmmakers engage in it — but Sound of My Voice traffics in nothing but vagueness, akin to a Q&A session in which there are only Q's. Marling, who also co-wrote the script with director Zat Batmanglij, held similar double-duty on last year's Another Earth (which teamed her with director-cowriter Mike Cahill), and this new picture is at least superior to that obvious and often insufferable piece. There's a matter-of-factness to the performances that fuels the movie's sense of discomfort, further heightened by the appropriately drab lensing by cinematographer Rachel Morrison. But the more the film balks at meeting audience members halfway, the more frustrating it becomes, like the all-powerful Wizard of Oz after he's revealed to be a charlatan. Sound of My Voice promises to take us down a yellow brick road toward enlightenment, but it leads us off a cliff instead.