In the carpeted basement of a suburban house somewhere in the San Fernando Valley lives a young woman who claims to be from the future. And without ever offering definitive proof of that fact, she makes a scarily convincing case, so much so that Sound Of My Voice is as much about faith as it is about a crazy, cleanliness-obsessed cult and the couple determined to expose it. Like Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sound Of My Voice plausibly demonstrates how someone’s sense of self and certainty can be eroded, and like Another Earth, it was co-written by actress Brit Marling, a melancholy, luminous presence as the group’s leader. (The films all premièred at Sundance in 2011).
Whether this alleged emissary from 2054 is lying—and if she is, whether she’s doing so with malicious intentions—is left just murky enough to begin causing doubt even in the markedly logical mind of an amateur documentarian (Christopher Denham) who has personal reasons for wanting to prove Marling a fraud. He and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius) have patiently infiltrated the group and found their way into the inner circle, but aren’t prepared for what they find. Warm but unforgiving, fragile but steely, Marling is a fascinating presence, and Denham is drawn to her for reasons beyond just needing to take her down. Every ominous note the film sounds about the group—a spontaneous lesson in target practice, an insistence on fasting and purging—is answered by another “Well, maybe…”
The film, directed with efficiency by first-timer Zal Batmanglij, is a little too lean, filled with strong scenes that bump up against one another with no space to expand or resonate and an ending that’s unavoidably abrupt. But Marling provides a grave, otherworldly center around which everything else orbits—a wispy blonde apparently dying from her contact with our present, she speaks with a vague, New Age-y mysticism, but is also capable of being grounded, funny, and nothing like a sci-fi martyr. In the film’s best scene, she’s asked by her followers to sing a song from her time. The one she comes up with is familiar, and so audacious a choice viewers will likely think she has to be faking—and then that she couldn’t possibly be passing it off with such sincerity if she was. Who’s to say what will seem new again in the future? Or what vulnerable people will swallow?