The Best Movie Critic + review

SXSW: Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice’s strength is in its concept. Young couple Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) infiltrate a cult in order to expose its leader, Maggie (Brit Marling), as a fraud. Maggie claims to have traveled back in time from the year 2054 in order to educate believers about the upcoming civil war and the peaceful agri-communal rural society that survives after this apocalypse. She teaches them lessons about "spitting out the poison apple of society." It's just the sort of nutso warm blanket of an idea that would appeal to the weak minded on the verge of 2012. So says Peter, anyway. Only, the deeper he and Lorna dig, the less sure they are that Maggie is a fraud.

I’ve spent plenty of time since my first viewing of the movie reflecting on how fun and stimulating of a concept this is. I have not, however, spent any time reflecting on the experience of watching the movie itself. The actual nuts and bolts of the thing play out like a long episode of Lost. Everything hinges on mysteries and reveals. If Lost proved anything, it’s that a piece of fiction can not sustain itself on “holy shit” moments alone. There has to be some meat. There's gotta be characters, themes, and implications that we care about. If you're resting your laurels on the big reveals, boy, your protagonists better posses Humphrey Bogart-levels of charisma. Christopher Denham and Nicole Visius are no Bogie. Their characters are boring, empty vessels to carry the story with.

Brit Marling on the other hand is going to be a star. She’s the only person who could deliver the line, “You have to look deep into your heart and ask yourself, ‘Why am I so lame?’” as if the fate of the world rested on the answer. Marling's Maggie is hands down the best part of Sound of My Voice. She's wonderful. There's so much and so little going on in her eyes, reflecting our uncertainty about the validity of her character. She hypnotizes the audience just as she hypnotizes her cult followers. 5 years from now when she's a big star, remember, you read it here first.

So as frustrating as Sound of My Voice is, there's some really great stuff going on here. Apparently this concept, the brainchild of Marling and director Zal Batmangjil, was originally intended for episodic TV format. That makes sense. But if Marling and Batmangjil get to finish off their proposed trilogy of movies set in the Sound of My Voice world, they're going to have to adapt a little better to the language of movies. Each format comes with its own assets and limitations, and the worst thing about Sound of My Voice is that its creators thought they could get away with a little too much in the transition from one to the other.

-Ben

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