Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sound Of My Voice ★½

Never Confuse Laziness With Being Clever

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

There is a fine line between open endings in movies and plain laziness in the writing. Sound of My Voice is a film that unfortunately falls into the latter by leaving too many plot lines unresolved.

The film focuses on a couple, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), who decide to make a documentary about a cult in Los Angeles led by a mysterious woman named Maggie (Brit Marling, co-writer of the film) who claims to be from the future. Her mission is to rescue a select few before a supposed big event occurs, and bring them back with her.

It's an eerie premise for sure, but there is no real payoff to any of the storylines in the film. At one point, Maggie says she needs Peter to prove himself by bringing her a young girl, Abigail (Avery Kristen Pohl) from the school Peter substitute teaches at. This little girl exemplifies autistic-like tendencies: she's withdrawn, does not really speak, and focuses on building extremely detailed lego structures. In one quite disturbing scene, her father tells her that it is time to go to bed. He then lays her down on the bed and injects something in between her toes. That's all we see, and there are no other clues (as far as I could tell) in the film as to what was going on. Why Maggie wants this young girl I won't spoil in this review except to say that it's a major twist. In addition to that loose end, there's a completely separate storyline about a detective (Davenia McFadden) in search of Maggie who claims that Maggie is some sort of a con artist wanted by the government for some time. She tells Lorna that the reason Maggie wants Abigail for a much more sinister reason than what Maggie tells Peter, but we're never told what that reason is.

This review would have been entirely different if these stories had some sort of resolution because there would be enough substance within those stories to warrant the ending that this film provides. Instead, the ending just comes across as one more plot point that the filmmakers did not feel like resolving. It's as if they (Brit Marling and co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij) had a good idea for a film but had no idea where they were going with it when they started writing and then decided to try and come across as clever and mysterious by leaving the audience to decide for themselves what they have just seen. If this was their original intent then I'm sorry. Bad writing is bad writing, plain and simple.

The writing is bad not only in story, but in character as well. There was not much to like about Peter and Lorna. Early on in the film, we find out that Peter's mother was part of a cult when he was just a boy and because of her beliefs, she refused treatment for her cancer and subsequently died, leaving Peter an angry and lost child. His curiosity surpasses his ability to see things for they way they are and leads him to ignore warnings from Lorna that they may be in over their head, which of course, they are. Lorna is a bit more of a sympathetic character (she's a recovering drug addict and the only voice of reason in the whole movie) but she comes across as a kind of bored character throughout, and Peter is just plain irritating. Watching he and Lorna together you begin to wonder what ever attracted these two to one another, except the fact that neither of them seem to be going anywhere in life. That sounds harsh, but at one point the two fight and verbally attack one another, revealing that they've both never done what they truly want to do. Peter's motivation for infiltrating the cult is clear from his past, but Lorna is only in it to say that she did something worthwhile, or so it seems. But these characters are our way into this world; they're the audience, but their unpleasantness made me not want to follow them.

The one solid performance in Sound of My Voice that is worth mentioning is Brit Marling as Maggie. She plays her in such a way that she seems calm, cool and collected on the outside, but behind her eyes you see a sort of evil presence that made me feel like she was about to do something horrible in every scene she was in. She gives the feeling that you're in a horror film; you're waiting for the monster to pop out from the dark when you look into her eyes. It works quite effectively because you're never sure what to expect from her, not unlike John Hawkes performance in last year's, Martha Marcy May Marlene, (a far superior film about what it's like to be in a cult). Marling's performance is a glimmer of hope in a film that fails because of its own laziness.

Like the two leads in the film, I entered into this world hoping to find something truly memorable and shocking. Instead, I walked out feeling like all the money in my wallet was stolen from a cult that seemed too good to be true.

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