Follow It, by David Bax
Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice is rather calm and measured in aesthetic and execution; ironically but fittingly so given that this is actually a film about people in a barely concealed state of panic. Occasionally, things may be a little too calm, approaching the mannered coolness of a movie that is feeling overly sure of how smart and hip it is. Mostly, though, the stillness of the world works in that, when the underlying anxiety finally bursts through, it becomes a revelation to the characters, if not to us.
Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are a youngish couple. Lorna lives off her parents’ money while Peter has found work as a substitute teacher. For him, this is hardly a fulfilling career. He aspires to some kind of investigative journalism and his current project, into which he has drawn Lorna, is the infiltration of a secretive cult that meets in the basement of a house in an undisclosed neighborhood (members are transported blindfolded). The cult gathers to hear and follow the word of a woman named Maggie (co-screenwriter Brit Marling) who claims to be from the future and has dire warnings about impending wars and other devastations. The film follows both the “in too deep” undercover template and the “is it true or isn’t it” vaguely science fiction/mystery one.
Whether or not Maggie is who she says she is, Sound of My Voice is mostly Peter’s story (and, to a lesser extent, Lorna’s). It makes sense that he would be drawn to a faction that aims to be sure of – and prepared for – the future. He’s reached an age where he should be securing his own prospects yet he’s found nothing but a stopgap job and a relationship to which he’s not fully committed. Lorna, whose financial fate is essentially accounted for, is in the same relationship, though she likely cares more for Peter than he does for her. She has her own life to consider.
Denham and Vicius are well-matched and make a magnetic pair as actors. It’s plain that they have all the familiarity of a long-term couple though perhaps their compassion doesn’t run as deep. Denham plays Peter in such a way that his stubbornness and willful blindness to his own culpability in the cult are frustrating while simultaneously being completely sympathetic in his all too human motivations for those traits. Vicius, meanwhile, earns our sympathy for Lorna by conveying her reluctant but respectable decision to take on the role of the pragmatist in the relationship. Marling is virtually the third lead and her line readings are a bit arch but not enough to mar the film.
If anything does have a deleterious effect, it’s Batmanglij’s occasionally over-considered and artificially solemn aesthetic choices. The bleak palette, the quiet soundscapes, the droning music; these things have their place but, layered as they are, it’s like American Indie Arthouse 101.
Sound of My Voice is the first feature from a young director and these drawbacks are indicative of that greenness. Still, Batmanglij has made a better-than-average genre film that does exactly what genre films are supposed to do. It uses familiar story points as a skeleton on which to hang much deeper ruminations. Not only that but it takes a special talent to craft a scene of equal parts beauty and hilarity out of “Dreams” by The Cranberries.