Movies You Missed 59: Sound of My Voice
Our weekly review of flicks that never reached Vermont theaters
Christopher Denham and Brit Marling
This week in movies you missed: If someone told you she was a time traveler from the future and the future would totally suck, would you believe her?
What You Missed
In a basement somewhere in LA’s San Fernando Valley, there’s a young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling, pictured) who claims to be a time traveler from 2054. She’s gathering a group of followers whom she hopes to prepare, she says, for a “civil war” and other vague disasters to come.
Would-be documentarians Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) infiltrate Maggie’s group, which they see as a potentially dangerous cult, to collect video evidence of its activities. They must submit to being searched, disinfected and blindfolded. But the real test comes when Maggie begins to break down their psychological defenses, sensing in the troubled Peter someone who could be powerfully resistant to her message — or responsive to it.
Why You Missed It
Sound of My Voice played for just a week at Montpelier’s Savoy Theater.
Should You Keep Missing It?
It’s not easy to maintain genuine suspense for the length of a movie when you’re working on a budget that doesn’t allow you to use thrills and chases to distract the audience. Until the end of Sound of My Voice, his feature debut, director Zal Batmanglij does just that.
The suspense involves an existential question: Is Maggie really from 2054? Or is she a con woman, or crazy? If the former is true, then the film we’re seeing is a low-tech version of The Terminator as reimagined by futurist James Howard Kunstler. (Maggie’s message is right in line with his, and won’t surprise Vermonters.) But if Maggie is a fraud, then the film is about Peter and Lorna — primarily Peter, who has a personal reason to despise cults — and how this charismatic individual plays on their weaknesses.
The end of the film appears to answer that question, but then it just stops, without exploring the unsettling implications of that answer. According to Batmanglij (who isn’t related to Batman, but is related to the guy from Vampire Weekend), that’s because Sound of My Voice is actually the first film in a trilogy. Will we ever get to see the continuation? Uh, maybe.
Some viewers may be fine with the abrupt ending; I wasn’t. But that’s only because Sound of My Voice is so much better paced and better thought out than your average indie pic that it raises expectations.
A time-travel film like Looper can get by on visuals, star power and action, which is why director Rian Johnson made me so happy by also telling a great story. But a low-budget, high-concept film like Sound of My Voice stands and falls on its story, and false notes in the script or acting will kill it. Denham (especially) and Vicius both give strong performances, but Marling’s part is key, and, as star and cowriter, she delivers the goods. Maggie is a believable cult leader: sisterly and likable one moment, high handed and creepy the next. The scene where she sings a hit song “from the future” is the film’s high point — even if it will put an earworm in your head for the next week.
Marling also wrote and starred in the indie Another Earth and played Richard Gere’s daughter in Arbitrage. More importantly from the Hollywood point of view, she looks like a blonde young Julia Roberts, so expect her to start appearing in blockbusters as the hero’s girlfriend any time now. Then you can say you knew her when.
Verdict: See it, perhaps in a double feature with Primer or Safety Not Guaranteed. But if you see it with a homesteading friend, be prepared for smug comments about how they won't need to eat worms when the Collapse comes.
More New DVD Releases
Five (Five short films about breast cancer with celebrity directors)
Iron Sky (Udo Kier in a campfest that asks, “What if the Nazis still had a moon base?”)
The Lady (Biopic about Burmese democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Documentary asks where all that money raised “for the cure” actually goes.)
Produced by George Martin (Doc about the legendary music producer)
Red Lights (Paranormal researcher Sigourney Weaver tries to discredit blind psychic Robert DeNiro.)
Surviving Progress (Documentary about how progress might actually suck, with Stephen Hawking)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)