Sound of My Voice

Brit Marling, trying to look intense in the very unconvincing "Sound of My Voice."

I was really disappointed in the “Sundance approved” film  “Sound of My Voice.”  I went to see it because it was co-written by and starred Brit Marling.

Marling co-wrote and played the lead in “Another Earth,” one of the best films of 2011.  I had the pleasure of meeting Marling at a preview screening of “Another Earth” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and enjoyed speaking with her after the film.  When I heard of her involvement in “Sound of My Voice” of course I wanted to see it.   So last Friday I went to the Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston Street, with a good friend, also a Marling fan, for opening day.

What I found was a story that was unconvincing, incomplete and dull.  While “Another Earth” intelligently chose a story that fit its low budget aesthetic, “Sound of My Voice” looks as if it was mostly shot in someone’s basement.  Although the film was apparently a big hit at the last Sundance Film Festival, it actually plays more like a spoof of an “edgy-indie” film. 

A while back I wrote about another Sundance hit, “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  It too played like a lampoon of a Sundance movie.  I bring up “Martha Marcy May Marlene” here because, like “Sound of My Voice,” it was also about a cult.  What is it with indie filmmakers and cults?  Are these stories just easier to film because all you need is a non-descript setting out in the woods, a pretentious looking cult leader and a group of under fed looking actors willing to work for SAG scale?

“Sound of My Voice” is about two documentary filmmakers, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), who gain access to a cult in order to secretly make a documentary about the cult and its leader, Maggie (Marling).  It is never convincing that Peter and Lorna are making a movie.  For one thing we never  see the footage that they have shot, something that would have helped the story.  I mean, if they are making a documentary then their footage should figure in the story, right?  Peter swallows some sort of glowing orb which apparently is the concealed microphone, and I think I think the camera is hidden in his glasses.  The swallowed microphone proves to not be a good idea when Maggie requires everyone in the cult to vomit, one by one.  Obviously this creates a conflict for Peter (who does not want to upchuck the microphone) and represents the only thing resembling suspense in the entire film.

If this required vomiting sounds difficult to watch, believe me it is nothing compared to the scene in which Maggie requires everyone in the cult to eat live worms.  It would be one thing if these scenes were crucial to the story, but they only seem to exist to add some sort of, what I guess the filmmakers considered to be weight, to a flimsy story.

Maggie’s assistant is Klaus (Richard Wharton).  Klaus is super annoying and pretentious looking (in a smug, ex-hippie, long hair, round glasses, pseudo intellectual kind of way).  To gain entry into the cult Peter has to participate in an elaborate secret handshake with Klaus, which looks like more like an idiotic frat boy ritual than anything else.

Marling’s Maggie is a pretentious, self-absorbed woman who claims to be from the future.  Gee, is she or isn’t she?  This is hardly a question to keep one on the edge of one’s seat.  Anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Twilight Zone” (forgive me Rod Serling for mentioning your great TV series in the context of this marginal film) will be able to call the ending from the halfway mark.

“Sound of My Voice?” Nope.  Didn’t hear it.  I was asleep.

“Sound of My Voice,” director Zal Batmanglij, 2011,

Fox Searchlight Pictures, 85 minutes, Rated R

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on May 1, 2012, in New, What were they thinking? and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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