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What are you hiding from me?

Sound of My Voice
(2011)

(SPOILERS) Engrossing to experience, but seemingly so shot through with ambiguity at every turn that you’re left wondering if there’s any point in trying to distill its elements into something cohesive.

An investigative journalist, Peter (Christopher Denham), and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius, an actress with a highly distracting nose) infiltrate a cult with the intention of exposing its leader Maggie (Brit Marling) as a sham, a woman who claims to be from the year 2054. She appears to be unwell, allergic to early 21st century living, and is on dialysis/requires blood transfusions. Peter begins to fall gradually under the cult leader’s spell, while Lorna grows uneasy. 

The turning point comes when Maggie asks Peter to kidnap a girl in the class he teaches, whom Maggie claims is her mother. We have already seen that the girl is unwell (Peter wonders if she is narcoleptic, but we are privy to scenes where her father injects her, and others that lend an ominous sense that he is abusing her). This suggests a link to Maggie’s sickness (but then we see her smoking, suggesting that she is not all she claims to be). In and earlier scene, the focus that she gives to Peter’s own past where he may have been abused (he tells his girlfriend he made this up, but this is not very convincing) suggests another thematic link.

The scenes within the cult are immersive and claustrophobic, cleverly shifting points-of-view and identification, but the plot thread of a Department of Justice officer who enlists Lorna to help ensnare Maggie ends up muddying the waters even further.

Various interpretations would make sense if they didn’t leave other elements dangling; that Maggie was a junkie and the girl is her daughter/sister whom she wants to reclaim from abuse (this would be why the girl knows the special cult handshake, assuming she will not one day become Maggie’s mum). Except that doesn’t account for the boy we see let into Maggie’s room at the beginning. And while that tallies with the DoJ story (she asks the Lorna if they’ve asked for a child yet), the DoJ officer behaves more as if she is under surveillance (checking her room for bugs) than in pursuit of criminals (and why is the Peter left with the girl at the end, after Maggie has been apprehended – it doesn’t seem very professional).

The desire to evade a coherent interpretation ends up lessening the most effective part of the film; the seductive trappings of the cult itself. It’s an intriguing picture, but it ends up pushing the inscrutability a little bit too far, extending itself from (a relatively straightforward) “Is she or isn’t she?” to “What are these other people up to?” The director (and co-writer with Marling), Zal Batmanglij, insists that they knew all the specifics, and that a sequel is planned. It will be interesting to revisit this one subsequently, if it gets made.  

***1/2

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