Though they've made only two films together, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling are a filmmaking pair that compliment each other like Yin and Yang - Batmanglij and Marling write the script together, but she stars, and he directs. Batmanglij can make even the barest of sets come alive, while Marling can draw you in with her ethereal beauty and earthy tone-of-voice. They're a match made in heaven, and it's becoming quite clear that in just a few years, they won't just be indie darlings anymore.
"Sound of My Voice", their debut, isn't quite as strong as last year's intense "The East", but it's accomplished filmmaking that boasts confidence that is rarely seen by rookie filmmakers.
The film focuses on Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a young couple that aspires to make a documentary about a mysterious cult that is lead by the shadowy but magnetic Maggie (Marling). When they join, in hopes to get footage and eventually infiltrate the group, they begin to let themselves go into Maggie's twisted logistics.
In Maggie's introductory scene, we are drawn to her in the same way her followers are. Draped in a white sheet, hooked up to an oxygen tank, and claiming she is from the future (2054, to be exact), she easily could be too eccentric to take seriously - but she demands our complete attention, and it's nearly impossible to look the other way.
She makes strange demands (in one scene, she tells the members to eat an apple. Seconds later, she tells them to purge its remnants, as it is full of "logic, bitterness."), but with every odd move she takes, we can't help but want to trail in her footsteps. Maggie is so entrancing that there were plenty of moments where I wondered if this could be one of those movies where - surprise! - she actually is from the future!
It's easy to be tricked, because Marling is thoroughly convincing in her role. There are many scenes where she is forced to hypnotize an entire room simply with her aura, and she is so successful in this that there are times in which we can't help but wonder if her performance makes the film better than it actually is.
The budget is obviously low, but the story is strong enough to draw our focus elsewhere. Their is a constant uneasiness at every turn - Peter reminds us repeatedly that it's impossible to truly know what this cult is truly capable of - and when Maggie demands that her followers kidnap a young girl who she tells them is "her mother", the possibilities in our mind are endless. Will they kill her? Will they use her as a pawn for something deeper? What if she actually is her mother?
"Sound of My Voice" is like a game of cat-and-mouse that only exists in our mind. The ending is left somewhat ambiguous, and it's left up to the viewer to process the final scene. Maggie's reasoning behind her shenanigans are never out of the fog, but what the film represents on an even bigger spectrum, however, is that Batmanglij and Marling are going places. And I mean going places.