You know, I like an open-ended conclusion as much as the next guy (and sometimes more), but I do have the pre-requisite that the film earn its ending. ‘Sound of My Voice’ is an example of a good movie that doesn’t earn its abrupt and supposedly shocking ending. Up until the final moments of the film, this is a strong paranoid thriller from Brit Marling (who co-writes and stars here like she did in ‘Another Earth’) with an intriguing idea at its core. Then, something happens and the flick more or less cuts to black. It’s incredibly frustrating, and almost ruins what’s come before it. Not only is it an unsatisfying ending, but it’s a predictable one at that. I loved how this movie told a sci-fi tinged story without any special effects, but it’s low wattage output doesn’t work when it comes to the almost mumblecore-style ending. I’ll try not to focus entirely on the climax of the film, but it’s the one thing that’s dominating my mind since seeing it, and that’s not a good sign for Marling’s film (unlike ‘Limbo’, for example, which delightfully leaves a viewer rather in limbo). There are certainly things to like about this flick, but they can’t make up for this gigantic flaw. This should have been a 3 star review of mine, but the final moments made it not to be.
Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) is a substitute teacher that really wants to be a documentarian. He thinks he has his subject in the mysterious Maggie (Marling), a cult leader that he wants to expose. With the help of his girlfriend Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius), he begins investigating her, eventually working themselves into the cult and getting invited to a meeting with her. They go to a random home, are made to bathe excessively, then are blindfolded, taken to a different home’s basement, made to do a secret handshake, and then sat down to finally see Maggie. She’s a charismatic young woman, but she has a story to tell. She claims to be from the future and here to save the true believers from what’s to come. Peter and Lorna don’t initially believe her, but they both begin to get drawn in to her world. Lorna stays at arm’s length, but soon Peter is neglecting to continue the investigation and seems slowly coming under her spell. When she asks him to kidnap one of his students and bring her to the basement, he must decide if he’s a true believer or not. From there, things build to one of the most disappointing climaxes of the year so far.
The acting is solid all around, if not amazing (with one exception). Christopher Denham is essentially the lead here, and he comes off a little stiff as Peter, but it fits for his character. He’s the buttoned up and analytical type, so the idea of a cult leader from the future is totally foreign to him, making for his desire to out her as a fraud. Nicole Vicius is at times a bit flighty, but Lorna is a reformed party animal and it fits for her as well. She’s initially more into the environment, but soon she finds Peter slipping away, and it leads to tension in their relationship. Their arguments show their best chemistry together (not that they don’t jive in their other scenes, but they mostly lack passion). As for Brit Marling, she’s the best part of the movie. She makes you question Maggie, but at times want to believe in her. She keeps things very intriguing, but never over the top (consider a scenes involving her singing the Cranberries song “Dreams”…it shouldn’t work, but it does). It’s an even better performance than she gave last year in ‘Another Earth’, which in and of itself is a real compliment. Also on hand are Richard Wharton, Davenia McFadden, James Urbaniak, Kandice Stroh, and Avery Kristen Pohl, among others, but Marling is the one that you remember the most. She positively captivates the audience. If only her script could have done the same.
As directed by Zal Batmanglij (and co-written by him and Marling as well), this is a sparse and haunting looking flick. He allows things to unfold mostly on their own, aided by the performances and story and unencumbered by visual tricks. He oddly has each scene broken up with a number, but for the most part is a solidly directed work (I could do without certain scenes being repeated more than twice, but it’s nothing new in movies of late). The script is also solid for the most part, with Marling and Batmanglij suggesting a lot without diving too deep into it (Marling is definitely a talent to watch both in front of the camera and behind it as well). Their big flaw comes in how they choose to wrap things up, but it would spoil it to reveal what happens in any substantial way. Just know that it’s unlikely to satisfy you and it’s not a stretch to say that you might see things coming. It’s almost as if the duo know this wasn’t the best effort they could have put forward, because they’re currently in post production on a film called ‘The East’ that bears quite a bit of similarity towards ‘Sound of My Voice’. Maybe that’s going to be their version of a do-over…
I liked many parts of ‘Sound of My Voice’, but the ending is so frustrating I can’t fully embrace it. If you wind up seeing it and don’t have a problem with the climax, it’s likely going to be one of the more interesting films of the year for you. If you fall on my side of the coin, however, you’re likely to be just as annoyed as I am. I wanted to love the flick, and I found many moments that suggested a truly great little movie, but sum of its parts isn’t enough to get me there. Give it a shot if you’re so inclined and see where you fall on the spectrum of enjoyment, but don’t say I didn’t properly warn you!
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