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Arts & Culture

Review: 'Sound Of My Voice'

Brit Marling and Christopher Denham star in "Sound of My Voice."
Fox Searchlight
Brit Marling and Christopher Denham star in "Sound of My Voice."

Another Success For Brit Marling

Brit Marling is a rare creature, a woman with a penchant for unconventional science fiction, and who works on both sides of the camera. Her latest film, "Sound of My Voice" (opened May 4 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas), is a nice way to follow her film from last year, "Another Earth."

Brit Marling doesn't create conventional science fiction. At least not what most people going to a sci-fi film expect. It's science fiction without special effects or alien monsters or strange planets. What she creates are storied that push the boundaries of the real world as we know it and suggest that maybe there is something more, something that we can't explain. The focus is on the human rather than the science fiction.

Marling started working in documentaries and her first narrative feature as a writer/producer/star was "Another Earth." The what if question that film proposed was what if there was another earth with another you on it? In "Sound of My Voice," the question she raises is what if someone traveled back in time from the future? Maggie (played by Marling) claims she is from the future. But Peter (Christopher Denham) is a young teacher with journalistic aspirations, and he views her as a con artist. He considers the group she oversees as something akin to a cult. So he convinces his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) to help him expose Maggie as a fraud by sneaking into her cult and videotaping her. But the more he learns about her, the less certain he is of his original suspicions.

"Sound of My Voice" Trailer

The film, directed by Zal Batmanglij and co-written by him and Marling, is not as complex or intriguing as "Another Earth." It feels much slighter and ends abruptly and at a point where we feel the story is only beginning. But leaving us wanting more and filled with questions is what Marling has done to good effect in both her films. She doesn't answer everything but she leaves us with things to ponder and discuss, and that's a good thing. Her films are contemplative and are about considering provocative ideas so that we rethink how we perceive the world. "Another Earth" was emotionally richer because it added a thematic layer about how one copes with grief. "Sound of My Voice" plays like a low key, slow burn thriller so it feels like it has less depth.

As a performer, Marling is mesmerizing. She has a soft, almost pre-Raphaelite beauty but she also displays a steely strength. As Maggie, you can completely buy that people would follow her and be drawn to her. Marling and Batmanglij creates some great scenes within the commune/cult that reveal just what a hold Maggie has over people.

"Sound of My Voice" (rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use) is a subtle, low key but smart and provocative work. I am looking forward to what Marling comes up with next since her films always leave you craving more.

You can see my interview with Marling from when she came to KPBS last year for "Another Earth."

Companion viewing: "Another Earth," "Primer," "Moon"