She Sells Sanctuary
The second of the two Sundance hits which introduced film fans to screenwriter and thespian Brit Marling and scored her a pair of distribution deals with Fox Searchlight, Sound of My Voice is a compact, dynamite suspense exercise and almost as fascinating as Another Earth, one of last year's best pictures.
Opening without a title card and presented in ten short, to-the-point, mysterious chapters, the film stars Christopher Denham as a Los Angeles substitute teacher and aspiring documentarian who, along with his loving girlfriend (Nicole Vicius), has decided to infiltrate a cult and record the experience. At the center of this group is a beautiful, strange woman (Marling) who claims to be a time traveler from the war-torn 2050s who has come to our time to help a select few survive the nightmare to come. She is, of course, a dangerous, delusional fraud. Right? Or maybe not.
The Terminator by way of Martha Marcy May Marlene would be an apt description of Sound of My Voice's time-manipulating twists and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Those who complained the sensitive, deliberate Another Earth squandered the ingenious premise of a second, identical Earth by focusing on a story of grief and redemption will leave Sound of My Voice more satisfied. Though the characters are nuanced, the film is first and foremost concerned with the visceral experience of cult membership. The audience is thrust headfirst into a situation which in each and every way invites cynical disbelief and fear, but Marling's understated, yet electric performance and her character's complicated way with words begin to sway us, the way strong personalities so often turn the lost and the unsure into the raging faithful.
One scene, both hilarious and disturbing, finds her character singing a sparse rendition of "Dreams" by the Cranberries after the others urge her to a perform a song from her time. At first this seems surefire evidence of her fraudulence, but her quiet declaration she, having led a desolate life in a grim future without radio or iTunes, would have no idea of a hit song from six decades ago does not ring false either. It has been popularized again by traveling musicians in the future, she says with a casual, earnest air. Again and again the film turns on itself, leading eager audiences deeper and deeper into an ever-shifting maze.
Laced with misdirection and enticing clues, and ending on a powerful note deceptive in its simplicity, the film is sure to be a favorite among those who adore revisiting complicated, rich genre films and devising playful interpretations.