Movie Review: Sound of My Voice (2012, Dir. Zal Batmanglij)

It must be so much fun to be as pretty as Brit Marling. Because I just can’t understand how else anyone could get away with the kind of self-important behavior she has displayed in her last two films. Both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice have screamed messages of a young, narcissistic girl who holds the opinion that her actions are a gift to the world (and in the case of Another Earth, more important than a whole planet). The one positive thing I can say about Sound of My Voice is that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this much loathing towards a film, and it’s nice to be reminded of how true hate feels!

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) join a cult with the intention of secretly filming and debunking the group in a documentary. After finally being permitted to join the group in the basement where they convene, they are introduced to Maggie (Brit Marling), who claims to be a time traveler from the future. The entire group is enchanted with Maggie, and soon the filmmakers begin to lose their focus. And yet again, a weak sci-fi backdrop is ignored and misused, playing second fiddle to a group of lame characters.

The film is directed by another young filmmaker, Zal Batmanglij, and co-written by Batmanglij and Brit Marling.

My problems with Sound of My Voice begin with its logic. If Peter and Lorna are actually trying to make a documentary, they are the two least intelligent documentarians ever. Hint: it isn’t customary to film your subjects without their knowledge. It would be one thing if they were journalists gathering research for a story, but for some reason, these two horrible characters think they are making a film. I don’t understand their motivations. Nothing they do is conducive to creating cinema (hey, there is a parallel I could make here!). This includes a scene where Peter swallows a transmitter to help capture the footage he is shooting with a spy camera in his glasses. First off, I don’t see why he couldn’t tape it to his body, they never appear to be that thoroughly frisked. Second, do his glasses, the only camera Peter uses to document the cult, record audio? Third, the point of the whole thing seems to be to create suspense when later that night, Maggie somehow causes everyone to vomit. She’s just that amazing.

I think there’s an attempt somewhere to imply neither are that dedicated to the film, Peter is on a personal mission to understand his past and find faith, and Lorna is trying to prove… something about herself? I’m trying really hard to project meaning into this drivel.

Their cult is more like a small club, meeting in the evenings for a few hours of iffy group therapy conducted by Maggie. And absolutely no effort seems to be put into convincing anyone that anything she is saying is real. How did these people join the cult? Why? Doesn’t matter. It seems only Brit Marling matters.

Sound of My Voice is not only self-indulgent and uninteresting, it is genuinely soulless. Visibly set in Los Angeles, with its main characters embodying aspects of Los Angeles culture (rich daughter of a movie producer, aspiring filmmaker), the stunningly obvious commentary of another cultish organization with a strong presence in L.A. that encourages its members to embrace a science fiction and seems to be attracting a lot of Hollywood types is nowhere to be found. In fact, there’s no commentary to be found at all. There’s no ideas. It’s illogical, arrogant, and boring.

It doesn’t condone the cult. And it doesn’t exactly encourage it either, the only thing the film seems concerned with is whether or not Marling’s character, Maggie, is legitimate. And even if she isn’t, it still casts her in an exalting light. Maggie is worshiped by the characters, the camera, and the script, which– surprise, surprise! Marling worked on herself.

It’s sad to think that this is what these independent filmmakers who are my age think is interesting. Whether or not someone is a time traveler. They’re not concerned with the oppressive aspects of our culture, the difficulty of defining and knowing ourselves as individuals, how easily people can be brainwashed, or the consequences of believing everything we’re told. They’re not even concerned with the infinite possibilities of life, science, and of our own minds. If the point of the film is, “Is Maggie a time traveler?” then why should anyone care? It’s one thing when a movie is fun and action-driven and leaves you questioning two realities. It’s another thing to make a small, boring movie with absolutely no substance, and expect to have the audience asking the same excited question they have at the end of Total Recall.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a beautiful, fascinating portrait of a woman clinging to reality, tortured and traumatized by her induction into a cult. 12 Monkeys is a darkly whimsical, bleak science fiction film about a man who might be crazy, but might also be a time traveler on a mission to save the world. I would suggest watching both these films at the same time before recommending anyone even watch the trailer for Sound of My Voice.

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