Dir: Zal Batmanglij. US. 2011. 84mins
Sound Of My Voice, the second of two projects that made writer-producer-actor Brit Marling a hot talent at Sundance 2011, finally arrives in cinemas as a nicely creepy arthouse-genre hybrid that probably has more commercial potential than Marling’s prize-winning but gloomy Another Earth.
Batmanglij and the actors - especially Denham, who increasingly takes centre stage - do a skillful job spinning tension out of the characters’ evolving relationships.
By playing up the film’s genre elements - subtle thrills and a touch of sci-fi - in advance of the April 27 limited North American opening, Fox Searchlight, which acquired both Marling projects last spring, may be able to reap more from Sound than the $1.3m it managed last summer from Another Earth’s domestic run.
The arthouse elements - a minimalist style and a psychological bent - might be more leverageable for independent distributors that acquire Sound for international markets.
Based on a refreshingly lean script written by Marling and Zal Batmanglij, who also makes his feature directing debut, the film opens with substitute school teacher Peter (Shutter Island’s Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius, from 500 Days of Summer) being initiated into a cult based in a suburban Los Angeles basement and led by Maggie (Marling), a beautiful but sickly young woman who claims to have travelled back in time from a post-apocalyptic future.
Peter and Lorna are planning to make a documentary exposing the cult, but before long Peter apparently starts to fall under Maggie’s sway and Maggie seems to be catching on to Peter’s hidden agenda.
The film doesn’t delve too deeply into its faith-vs-belief theme and occasionally strains a bit too self-consciously for unnerving atmosphere. But Batmanglij and the actors - especially Denham, who increasingly takes centre stage - do a skillful job spinning tension out of the characters’ evolving relationships. And the story’s climax deepens the mystery of Maggie’s identity in a way that should keep moviegoers talking after the credits roll.
Production companies: 1737 Films, Skyscraper Films
Distribution (North America, UK, Australia): Fox Searchlight
Producers: Hans Ritter, Brit Marling, Shelley Surpin
Executive producers: Eric Richter, Victoria Guenier
Screenplay: Zal Batmanglij & Brit Marling
Cinematography: Rachel Morrison
Editor: Tamara Meem
Production designer: Scott Enge
Music: Rostam Batmanglij
Main cast: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling