Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Listen For The Sound Of My Voice

Sound Of My Voice
There is something immediately creepy when investigative journalist Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius) arrive at the house. They pull into the garage and are greeted, before their personal possessions are removed and they are asked to wash.

They are willingly blindfolded. Their hands are cuffed with tie-wraps. And they are driven to a remote location to see who they came for — Maggie (Brit Marling), a cult leader. Two years ago, she tells them, she woke up underwater in a bathtub that was not her own. Without any recollection, she was cast out on the streets.

Maggie is from the future. She lived in 2054.

The film builds around who Aitken and Michaelson are as much as their work to dig deeper into this mysterious cult. Aitken isn't a professional investigative reporter but a wannabe. He is a substitute teacher. Michaelson, his girlfriend, is an former addict. She eventually pulled her life together about the time they met.

In the initial days as they begin to infiltrate the Los Angeles-based cult, the new recruits are frequently separated, spontaneously tested, and subjected to blood tests. All of it is designed to protect Maggie, who is allergic to everything. They need to protect her because when things go bad, she will take them away to safety.

When the couple cannot find a way to record Maggie, Aitken attempts to smuggle a camera in by swallowing it. They not only want to capture Maggie, but also the wispy qualities of her voice that prompt people to a neat hypnotic state. Sometimes she is nurturing and other times she is the insistent parent.

As the film pushes forward, it becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the investigators are slowly taken in by their subject. For the rest of the initiates, it is easier. All of them are taken in by the promise of hope.

The film continually pits the question of whether Maggie is a con artist to the audience as much as the investigators. One of the disciples takes Michaelson out shooting in the woods. Maggie resists singing a popular song from the future, only to sing a song by the Cranberries. She also makes a big show about needing oxygen in the introduction, but lights a cigarette during a private session with Aitken.

Although the film is restrained, the vibe gives it an ominous tension as it becomes clear that the hopeful investigative journalist didn't pick his mark. Maggie picked him. She is especially interested in a little girl who happens to attend school where Aitken was teaching. The film is unsettling. The acting solid. The ending unforgettable.

A brief about director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer Brit Marling. 

Brit Marling recently had an independent hit with Another Earth, a science-fiction drama that touches on one girl's desire to find her alternate self on a parallel Earth who didn't make the same tragic mistake she did. It was while working on Another Earth that Marling met Zal Batmanglij, who received a special thanks credit on the earlier film.

Zal Batmanglij
Batmanglij originally had a dream similar to the opening of the film. When he told Marling during a writing session, she started building onto it. From there, they took turns telling the story until they had a script. Shortly after, they opened up a production office inside Marling's bedroom.

Incidentally, if you never heard of Batmanglij (despite his well-received short, The Recordist, in 2007), you might have heard of his brother. Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) wrote the music for it. The film is a brilliant piece of independent work, from start to finish.

Sound Of My Voice Registers At 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although minimalistic by design and budget, Sound Of My Voice is a milestone in the careers of Batmanglij and Marling as well as a great exercise in storytelling. As co-writers, they successfully pull back the curtain slowly and methodically without ever being tempted to insert any overt "indie" cinematography or pretentiousness into the film.

Sound of My Voice (Blu-ray) is available on Amazon. The film was also released for download or rental on iTunes. You can also order Sound Of My Voice from Barnes & Noble. Batmanglij has already finished his next film, The East. He co-write the new work with Marling too.
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