nicole vicius

8

Somewhere in the valley, there is a woman living in a basement. She’s actually amassing followers. these people believe that she will actually lead them to salvation, or whatever. And yes, she’s dangerous - but we have to see this thing through. All the way.

Sound of My Voice (2012)

Review

Here’s the most unsettlingly exciting experience I’ve had all year, a film that forced me to question everything I was seeing before me. Brit Marling has crafted another intelligent screenplay, putting a sci-fi concept with standard human emotion, which creates such a unique vision that we mostly forgive the film’s lapses in answers. Her previous venture, last year's Another Earth, was a film I admired more than I enjoyed; I thought the concept could’ve been handled more appropriately, and the lack of resolution showed the film wanted to be more thought-provoking than anything else. Maybe it’s my acceptance of her style, or maybe this film was just more enjoyable, but I found the efforts here more fitting and far more engaging, with Marling giving one of the best, and most commanding, performances of the year. The film’s ending raises even more questions than it answers, and that can be said about most of the film, but our perception on belief systems and the way we can manipulate one another becomes the core theme. It works immensely.

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are a young couple who hope to make a documentary about cults. In their attempt at investigative journalism, they decide to infiltrate a cult lead by the mysterious Maggie (Brit Marling), who carries an oxygen tank at all times and claims that she’s from the year 2054. She’s a time-traveller, and she’s gaining a large amount of followers for who knows what; it seems like some type of demonstration, or preparation for the so-called civil war that may be fast approaching. All of these mysteries intertwine as Peter becomes increasingly skeptical of it all, but begins to fall into the illusions Maggie creates. She’s a destructive force, asking for people to throw up, making them believe that it’s a sense of purging the bad. She even makes them eat worms at one point after a week of fasting, claiming it’ll prepare them for the future. Lorna sees all of this and her beliefs fall in and out as she sees what may be developing between the two; is it all just part of the plan, or is he really falling for her and her beliefs?

I actually loved the film for almost all of its running time, since it crafts one of the most beautifully desolate worlds I’ve ever seen. Almost all of the film takes place in the basement where this cult is held, and Maggie almost never steps foot outside. She says she woke up in a bathtub one day and wandered the streets for many days with nothing but a sheet draped over her body, with no real memory of where she came from. She has a tattoo of an anchor and the number 54, saying that shows where she comes from, where she was anchored. It’s either master manipulation, or it’s someone who’s telling the truth in a hopeful way. She even discusses with Peter at one point that she may sound crazy, and that moment right there shows how unsure we are of who this woman is. Does it come down to what we believe, what the characters believe, or what Maggie herself believes? 

It’s some fascinating work, bringing about some contemplation that really screws with us once those final frames come about. Marling is such a brilliant presence here, largely due to her being absolutely gorgeous and yet so forceful when need be. She’s assertive but fragile, and she’s controlling but laid back. She has this presence I just didn’t fully see in Another Earth; I actually thought her performance there was strongly emotional and the best part of the film, but here she really elevates that to something far more sinister. I find these types of performances more impressive, the ones where they stay in our head long after we leave. It may not be the emotional powerhouse that an awards group might look at, but it’s something that has to be recognized as a strong piece of work. It might even be the best supporting performance of this short year, and she commands the film in almost every way.

These characters are developed in minor ways, and maybe that holds the film back from being great. Even Peter and Lorna are given vague ideas of who they are, as we are told about them in interesting ways: who is that narrator that tells us all of these things about them. My guess is it’s someone in the cult who is telling Maggie of the information they found, and that’s why she seems to know quite a bit about Peter when she breaks him down emotionally. That scene is amongst the finest of the year, an almost ten-minute scene where she reduces him to almost nothing, insulting everything he’s worth while still making her presence feel important. Everyone still idolizes her in these instances, and when he finally breaks down they all celebrate in their quiet little way. None of these characters are overly developed, and I feel like that’s why I can’t fully embrace this as a great film.

I want to so badly, though; I think the hook here, along with that brilliant opening scene (the 12 minutes they released), is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, and it keeps our attention for the full running time. But the more questions the film raises, the more it demands of us, which is pretty rewarding, but it’s also a bit abrasive. I couldn’t help but feel that a few elements needed tidying: what was up with that Justice department woman that felt really out-of-place? I think the brilliance is there in almost every other way, regarding trust, belief, and so many other key elements that factor into the science-fiction landscape. This isn’t the great film it could’ve been, but maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s still a very good one, a marked improvement by Marling over her first feature, and a sign that she’s one of the strongest new voices in cinema. Now that’s something I’m looking forward to.

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

Sound of My Voice


Sound of My Voice

Directed by Zal Batmanglij, Written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, Starring Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius and Brit Marling 


Fandango Synopsis -
 Peter and Lorna, a couple and documentary filmmaking team, infiltrate a mysterious group led by an enigmatic young woman named Maggie. Intent on exposing her as a charlatan and freeing the followers from her grip, Peter and Lorna start to question their objective and each other as they unravel the secrets of Maggie’s underworld.


My Thoughts - 
The premise for SOUND OF MY VOICE is fascinating and a number of the films elements really work, but on the whole I think it’s undermined by an undercooked, maybe even lazy script and an unsatisfying, abrupt conclusion.

There is plenty to like about this film, with Brit Marling’s performance probably being its strongest asset. This was my first experience with Marling, as I have not yet seen her 2011 film ANOTHER EARTH. She’s fantastic in SOUND OF MY VOICE in a large supporting role as the leader or the basement cult, who claims to be a time traveler from the future. It’s a great character and Marling plays her with intensity when needed, and has great conviction in her “future story” even if it seems ridiculously bogus. The fact that her story is almost impossible to believe is perfect, it explains why she has such a small group of followers and why the group has such turnover. I don’t think anyone really believes her. It isn’t about believing, but rather those who fall in love with her stay and those who don’t obviously see through what seems to be B.S. she’s spewing. Marling made a great first impression on me and I think if she chooses to pursue acting outside of the indie films she pens herself, she has star potential.

I liked almost everything that went on inside the cult basement. The absolute secrecy and even the silly handshake added to things. The apple puking scene in which Marling is testing her followers faith stands out as does the absurd “Cranberries” scene. The cult is silly, their activities ludicrous and the followers a group of very sad people, which all helped me believe something like this could be happening in a California basement.

Sadly, the problems of the film are major enough to negate much of the good. Marling is great, but she isn’t one of our leads and the leads are bad. Their acting (Denham and Vicius) isn’t atrocious, but the characters are hard to spend time with. Denham’s character is a smug asshole and I never came close to buying the possible journey from non-believer to believer. Denham’s girlfriend played by Vicius is a complete throwaway who was never developed enough for the audience to become invested. 

SOUND OF MY VOICE is always intriguing, with you trying to put together everyone’s motivations and decide what you believe. There are a lot of questions raised and a number of major things introduced that promise big revelations, but NONE of it pays off. The film ends abruptly, answers NO questions and really had no character journey I bought. When it was over I had a hard time answering “what is there to take away from the film?” There are possible plans to continue the story in another two films, but I found this installment unsatisfying and unable to stand on its own. I’m OK and often happy with open endings, but there wasn’t enough to this story for it to work and it felt lazy.

I don’t think SOUND OF MY VOICE works as a whole. I’m still interested enough to see a second installment and maybe when everything is put together it’ll be a good story. If it all ends with this film then it’s just an intriguing premise, a good supporting character / performance and a lot of frustratingly unanswered questions. I think you can skip SOUND OF MY VOICE but if it’s added to in a nice way in the future, I may reconsider. 


My Rating : 5/10



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Film #127 / ∞


I’m also fascinated by films about cults and the psychological aspect they have on human behavior, and this movie serves to be an another engaging encounter. Taken from the perspective of a couple who want to infiltrate and share the outrageous rituals & dialogue of cult life, not only become consumed, but find themselves both in morally life altering situations. Very emotionally engaging.

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Sound of My Voice - trailer

Whoa.