Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sound of My Voice

Directed by Zal Batmanglij and written by Batmanglij and Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice is the story about a documentary filmmaking team who try to make an expose on a cult led by a mysterious leader who claims that she’s from the future. The film is about the world of cults and how two documentary filmmakers try to expose this leader only to fall prey into her world. Starring Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, and Nicole Vicius. Sound of My Voice is a chilling and provocative film from Zal Batmanglij.

The film is about the world of cults where two documentary filmmakers decide to join this strange cult in order to expose the leader only to fall prey into that world. During their time in these secret meetings with this leader who claims she’s from the future, things become even stranger as activities also become more questionable. Even as the substitute schoolteacher Peter (Christopher Denham) and aspiring writer Lorna (Nicole Vicius) go into diverging paths with the cult where one of them becomes seduced by the words and thoughts of its leader Maggie (Brit Marling). It’s a film that is filled with a lot of ambiguities as Peter and Lorna’s intentions were to bring Maggie and her cult down but things become very complicated. Even as some of Maggie’s antics would make them believe that everything she might be saying is true.

The film’s screenplay by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling has a structure where it all takes place in the span of ten days where Peter and Lorna do their activities in the daytime while would spend their time with this cult in the late nights. Upon arriving into this mysterious house, the two would have to shower and clean up anything that could have germs and wear these clothes. Then, they would be blindfolded and taken to a secret house and into a basement where Maggie lives as cult leaders would have members do a secret handshake and then meet Maggie who would hold a nightly meeting. There is a sense of repetition in the script as it would play into how these meetings would affect Peter and Lorna as their relationship would start to suffer. There’s also some ambiguities that is unveiled involving a young student of Peter’s school as well as a mysterious woman (Davenia McFadden) who would later play a key part into the film’s third act.

Batmanglij’s direction is pretty simple and understated as he shoots much of it in the Los Angeles area where Batmanglij manages to avoid some famed landmarks to go for something where it could be set anywhere. Yet, he maintains a sense of intimacy in much of his direction that does include some entrancing compositions in the way he puts his actors into the frame. Some of it is presented with hand-held cameras while there’s elements of suspense that Batmanglij creates to play into the world that Peter and Lorna have gotten themselves into. Especially as it would lead to this very chilling climax where it would showcase who is loyal to what Maggie wants but also reveal the other players that hadn’t been in touch with the cult as their roles are revealed. Overall, Batmanglij creates a very mesmerizing and entrancing thriller about the world of cults.

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison does excellent work with the film‘s very entrancing cinematography with its use of lights for many of the film‘s interiors and nighttime exterior scenes as well as some grainy video footage of the early lives of Lorna and Peter. Editor Tamara Meem does amazing work with the editing with its use of montages, jump-cuts, and other stylish cuts to play with the film‘s suspense and its unconventional structure. Production designer Scott Enge and set decorator Alys Thompson does nice work with the set pieces from the home that Peter and Lorna lives to the basement where Maggie conducts her rituals.

Costume designer Sarah de Sa Rego does terrific work with the costumes from the white clothes the cult members wear in the rituals to the casual look of Peter and Lorna outside of the cult. Sound editors Tobias Enhus and Patrick Giraudi do fantastic work with the film‘s sound from the way it plays up the suspense at the home where Maggie lives as well as some of sounds in the locations the characters go to. The film’s music by Rostam Batmanglij is superb for its ambient-based score with some folk textures and such to play into that sense of the unknown as he also contributes a couple of original songs that is sung by Libby Gery as well as a song by the British electronic group Hot Chip in the final credits.

The casting by Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from James Urbaniak as the father of a young girl that is featured prominently in the film, Richard Wharton as Maggie’s second-in-command, Kandice Stroh as a middle-aged cult member whom Lorna would socialize with, Alvin Lam and Constance Wu as other new members of the cult, and Avery Pohl as the young girl with a red hat who is one of the students that Peter teaches. Davenia McFadden is terrific as a mysterious woman who appear in the second act and later appear in the third as she would play a crucial role in uncovering the mystery that is happening.

Christopher Denham is excellent as Peter as he is the most skeptical of the two who would later find himself getting closer to Maggie while Nicole Vicius is amazing as Lorna who joins the cult with Peter as she deals with her new world and what it demands. Finally, there’s Brit Marling in a fantastic performance as Maggie as it’s one that is restrained at times but also very confrontational as she is this very odd yet engaging individual who could be telling the truth about her claims from being the future or she might be conning them.

Sound of My Voice is an extraordinary film from Zal Batmanglij that features an incredible performances from Brit Marling. The film is definitely an unconventional suspense film that plays into the world of cults and how two people try to expose them. In the end, Sound of My Voice is a remarkable film from Zal Batmanglij.

Zal Batmanglij Films: (The Recordist) - The East

© thevoid99 2014


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I'm glad you liked this one, I did too. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I enjoyed this well as I was surprised by the film. I'm going to watch The East tomorrow to see if Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij can create a worthy follow-up.

TheVern said...

I will agree that the performances are good and I liked the look of this. I could not stand that it suddenly ends right before third act. It's like they ran out of budget to shoot an ending and just stopped it there. I do like Brit Marling and will see her other projects but wont watch this again.

thevoid99 said...

@The Vern-Actually, I think the ending was appropriate because it plays into that sense of ambiguity and whether or not one of the characters believed everything that had just happen. I just saw The East which was really good and hope to see more works from Brit Marling.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. I love this film too. Batmanglij and Marling make a great pair together. Really, Marling is one of the best young talents working right now. I love her acting and writing styles.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-I was really surprised by the film for its lack of conventions and its structure as I now look forward to what Brit Marling will do as an actress/screenwriter and what Zal Batmanglij will do as well.