“Somewhere in the Valley is a woman who claims to be from the future.” The woman in question is the mysterious Maggie, played by co-writer/producer Brit Marling, arguably the most beautiful nerd in the world. Her claims of having awoken in a bathtub, after travelled back in time from the year 2054, have earned her a cult following – literally. Every weekend, her acolytes are showered, scrubbed and stripped of their possessions, before being driven, blindfolded, to the basement where Maggie is hiding out. There, they undertake various familiar initiation rituals, and encouraged to fast, eat earthworms (“in the future, food is scarce”), and prepare in obscure ways for a dark future, which Maggie insists is Mankind’s destiny. The cult’s latest members, Peter (Christopher Denham), a substitute teacher, and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), are sceptical, however. Concealing a camera in Peter’s glasses, they begin to secretly film the cult meetings, hoping to make a documentary that exposes the cult and its credulous followers. But will one or both of them fall under Maggie’s dark spell, before they can uncover the truth about her outlandish claims?
Ever since Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004) proved you don’t need a big budget to make big-brained science fiction, there have been a number of entries in the ‘lo-fi sci-fi’ subgenre, notably Timecrimes, Never Let Me Go and, more recently, Another Earth. The latter film was co-written, like Sound of My Voice, by its star, Brit Marling, and here she delivers a similarly fresh take on a familiar science fiction trope – in Another Earth, parallel universes; here, time travel – blending Martha Marcy May Marlene and 12 Monkeys to fascinating and sporadically riveting effect. Naturally, Marling writes a plum role for herself as Maggie, the ethereally beautiful and charismatic cult leader; yet Peter and Lorna are no mere cyphers, each having their own emotional issues and conflicts, which put them at odds with each other. In a very modern twist, their desire to make their documentary seems to have more to do with lifting them out of their humdrum existence than about exposing the cult – which, on the surface at least, appears relatively harmless.
Like Peter, Lorna and the other cult initiates, the audience is asked to question the veracity of Maggie’s incredible assertion, a delicate high-wire act which co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij – who is already busy directing Marling in his second feature, The East – negotiates with preternatural authority. Where Sound of My Voice stumbles is arguably in its lack of a clear sense of jeopardy; Maggie has come back from the future in order to warn certain people about, and prepare them for, some future catastrophe, which is never fully – or even partly – explained. Without this vital piece of the puzzle, there are no stakes to be played for, so the question of whether or not Maggie’s crackpot story is true is of little or no consequence. (In this respect, Sound of My Voice is closer to K-PAX, in which ‘Prot’ (Kevin Spacey) claims to be from another planet, than 12 Monkeys or The Terminator, in which the heroes have purportedly come from the future to save the past.) This small niggle aside, Marling and Batmanglij have constructed an engrossing mystery, directed and acted with sufficient skill to allow the audience to gloss over the occasional plot hole and narrative inadequacy.
That sound you hear is two fresh, exciting and distinctive new filmmaking voices. ★★★★