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Movie Review: Sound of My Voice

'Voice' lures and lulls us, then simply cuts out
Sound of My Voice
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 85 min
Release Date: 2012-04-27
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij know how to write their way into a grippingly suspenseful movie. They just don’t know how to write their way out, and the uneven result is “Sound of My Voice.”

This visually engaging, well-acted story held me for an hour as tightly as anything I’ve seen this year. But as we neared the climax, I realized only a miracle could resolve the contradictions of the tale – and we didn’t get one.

Marling stars as Maggie, a woman of about 30 who claims to have come from the future. She says that she woke up one day in a dingy hotel bathtub full of water, without identification, memories or a working immune system.

Klaus, her rescuer (Richard Wharton), has recruited acquaintances who wish to be purified by Maggie before embarking on some undefined adventure. Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) infiltrate the group, planning to make a documentary that will expose her, but lose heart as they’re won over by her demeanor. (She’s a sensitive, intelligent person who gives “followers” excellent advice about releasing their feelings.) Then she asks them to kidnap an 8-year-old girl, whom she claims is her mother-to-be.

Intriguing stuff, right? But every possibility leads to a question that Batmanglij (who directed) and Marling can’t or won’t answer.

If Maggie’s from the future, why can’t she offer one proof of her time travel? If she’s not, what game could she be playing? Why concoct an elaborate, months-long masquerade for multiple people in order to meet one little girl, especially when you have no reason to think you’ll attract the man who can kidnap her?

If Maggie’s a fugitive from justice, as an FBI agent claims, why not just arrest her? Why set up some elaborate sting to catch someone whose address you know, especially as her followers show no signs of breaking any laws?

The filmmakers delay the non-climax for a long time, but they do so by introducing elements they don’t explain.

The 8-year-old’s father gives her mysterious injections, and the little girl writes “terrorist” on a classmate’s backpack. One member of Maggie’s group takes Lorna out to the woods to shoot pistols at the outline of a man, but nothing comes of that. Peter disgorges memories of family abuse at Maggie’s urging, but is he sharing his pain (and falling under her spell) or lying to win her trust?

Marling played a similarly ambiguous game in “Another Earth,” which she wrote with director Mike Cahill. There people linked by a tragic auto accident tried to rebuild their psyches in the shadow of a second Earth, which offered possible alternative lives.

But that film wasn’t a mystery, except to the extent that the heart is always a mystery to the inquisitive. “Sound of My Voice” poses questions that demand clearer answers, and the filmmakers shirk their responsibilities and hide behind a cloud of maybes.

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5/23/2012 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

Documentary-makers investigating a presumed cult wonder if the woman leading it may come from the future.

(Full review)
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