Sundance 2011 Review: SOUND OF MY VOICE

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
January 28th, 2011

Rating: 4/5

Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Cast: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling

The first feature from director Zal Batmanlij takes his audience inside the world of a growing cult in the basement of a suburban home in the San Fernando Valley. If you have ever wondered what being in a cult entails or what would posses people to willingly join one, SOUND OF MY VOICE looks to shed some light on this unique experience.

Substitute teacher Peter (Christopher Denham) and writer Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are also documentary filmmakers planning on infiltrating a cult by pretending to be new recruits in order to expose this world from an inside perspective. Unsure of what exactly the cult they plan on joining intends from its members, after getting qualified, Peter and Lorna are allowed to enter the “inner sanctum” with a handful of others and granted audience with cult leader Maggie (Brit Marling).

Shrouded in gauzy white fabric, Maggie makes her entrance dragging an oxygen tank behind her and your mind immediately fills with more and more questions as this world is slowly unveiled. When she pulls back the shawl, we get our first look at the woman around whom all these people are willingly dedicating their time and lives to and we realize that she is not scary or intimidating, but young and beautiful. Maggie begins to explain her story to the group, noting the tattoos on her ankle, which indicate she is from the future and has traveled back in time to save the one she loves.

At the beginning of the project, both Peter and Lorna dismiss those following Maggie as weak people just looking for meaning in their lives. The more involved they get in the initiation process through interactions with Maggie herself, these once hard and fast opinions begin to blur and it is not hard to understand why. When Maggie speaks, you immediately understand why people flock to her – she is intoxicating and the way she simply forms her words leaves you hanging on to every syllable. Meticulous and enchanting, Marling truly embodied Maggie in such a way her scenes were able to play without any music accompaniment and still deliver a serious emotional impact.

Peter seems to get more involved as the project goes on and as his time with Maggie increases she makes a special request he seems all too eager to fulfill. Maggie would like Peter to bring her one of his students she has specifically chosen out of a yearbook she happens to have. The ramifications of this request are not lost on Peter, but Maggie’s answer when he questions why, out of all his students, she would like to see this little girl is too intriguing for Peter not to consider.

With the Justice Department honing in, Peter and Lorna end up on opposite sides of the issue concerning letting Maggie meet Abigail Pritchett (Avery Pohl), the student from Peter’s class. During a class field trip, all the key players come together in a climatic scene that haunt viewers' minds after watching it all unfold.

Pervasive and affecting, the lack of answers at the end of this journey was able to carry more of an impact than if they had been explained. It is a film that stayed with me long after I left the theater and even just thinking back on the experience of watching it gives me anxiety over how drawn into Maggie’s world I ended up getting, answering at least the question of why a person would be prone to join a group like this.

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