If a group of pompous college dropouts without any filmmaking ability attempted to rework Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and failed to capture the same level of tension and insight, the result would still be a hell of a lot better than Zal Batmanglij’s truly atrocious Sound of My Voice. Here is a dull, predictable, embarrassingly self-satisfied low-rent thriller that just about confirms writer/producer/actress Brit Marling (Another Earth) as the most unlikable person working in the American independent film scene.
The film has a good premise, I’ll give it that. Unknown actors Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius play Peter and Lorna, a documentarian couple in their twenties who infiltrate a Los Angeles cult. A misfit group that gather in a basement dressed in paper gowns, they’re led by the mysterious Maggie (Marling) a young, wispy blonde woman who claims to have travelled from the future.
I wish I could tell you that my biggest problems with Sound of My Voice were confined to its copious plot holes, go-nowhere narrative threads, criminally underdeveloped relationships between characters, non-existent motivations of the cult members or the total lack of atmosphere or intrigue. Sadly, that is not the case. What really makes Sound of My Voice excruciating is the pervasive aroma of unearned smugness that filters through each and every frame.
From the moment Marling opens her mouth to deliver the dialogue she wrote for herself, it seems overwhelmingly apparent that neither she nor anyone else with control over the production has any idea how derivative her speechifying is. Her cult leader is not enigmatic or charismatic, but rather unconvincing, unoriginal and intensely uninteresting.
Her performance, meanwhile, is loaded with all the dramatic pauses and lingering smiles an unbearably haughty high-school drama student, the kind utterly convinced of her own brilliance despite being only okay. Unfortunately, while kids like that usually get a dose of reality after their first few failed auditions, the mild financial and critical success of the mediocre Another Earth (in which she also wrote herself the lead role) seems to have prolonged Marling’s delusions as the long-suffering creative type. God knows how much more pretentious garbage she’ll inflict on us before that fantasy is shattered.
Sound of My Voice was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more MIFF reviews, click here.