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The Sound of My Voice - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Sound of My Voice
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B
Editing: A

There's just something about The Sound of My Voice -- you just can't look away. The gentleness of the delivery, the softness of the lighting, and perhaps most especially the eerily soothing score by Rostam Batmanglij, who composed here for his first feature film: it all comes together to create an unusually compelling story.

And this is a story that shouldn't really be that compelling. Some of it is a little predictable. But this story, ultimately about the intersection between faith and reason, is so well put together that it stays with you after the credits roll. You want to keep thinking about it. Sure, the slight twist at the end could be construed to be a gimmick, but for me, it worked. It made the experience richer.

Peter (Christopher Denham) fancies himself an "investigative journalist." He's enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius), to infiltrate a secretive Los Angeles cult. He intends to create a documentary about this cult, and the beautiful woman who heads it, Maggie (Brit Marling). He outfits his glasses with a hidden camera. He even goes so far as to swallow a device meant to record audio. I wondered how well it could possibly do so from inside his stomach, but the movie never addresses this.

What the movie does do, and expertly so, is toy with what we are meant to believe is really going on. There's a wonderful scene in which Maggie has everyone eat a few bites of an apple. Then she asks them to consider the apple all the negative parts of their lives and their pasts -- and to throw them up. Very weird, but a test of loyalty. Peter, having swallowed the aforementioned device, resists. Maggie pushes him until he relents, and gives a tearful confession of childhood trauma. He later tells Lorna it was all an act just to give Maggie what she wanted. But was it?

Director and co-writer Zal Batmanglij, also making this his first feature film, teases us with the introduction of new characters who at first seem to have little to do with all that's going on: a little girl in the class where Peter substitute teaches; a black woman combing a hotel room for hidden devices (bugs?). The Sound of My Voice rolls out these characters at just the right pace, never being too coy about it. Eventually pieces of the puzzle start fitting together, and it's very satisfying to see -- even when the big picture doesn't turn out to be what you first think it's going to be. It's pretty hokey for Maggie to claim she's from the future -- the year 2054, to be exact -- but the movie makes us wonder: is she, or isn't she? The question is more intriguing than annoying.

Peter and Lorna find themselves a little in over their heads. Only one of them manages to keep a level head. In the end, how well they deal with their circumstances is ripe for debate. The movie provides no easy answers, and yet it offers just enough to be fulfilling. This is the mark of a quality film.

It's not a perfect film; the acting, while competent, really takes a back seat to the effective rendering of tone and mood -- mostly the result of music and editing. But this is a very strong debut by a clearly promising director, suggesting we can expect even better in the years to come. I for one am looking forward to it.

Christopher Denham (R) performs a secret handshake in THE SOUND OF MY VOICE.

Overall: B+
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