Why do people join cults? What is so entrancing about them that people not only join them, but are willing to die for their cult beliefs? The new indie film “Sound of My Voice” explores these questions, and by the end you might even be ready to sip the kool-aid.
“Sound of My Voice” follows Peter (Chris Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) on their journey joining a cult group led by a mysterious woman named Maggie (Brit Marling) who says she is from the future. The film is set up in chapters and each chapter introduces a new idea that is completely turned around in another. So when we first see what Peter and Lorna have to do to even enter the cult meeting in the first chapter with the extreme washing, blindfolds and childish secret handshake, the audience is obviously incredulous. A woman claiming to be from the future sounds so obviously crazy, why are Peter and Lorna doing this? Yes, Maggie seems smart and her ideas of peace are sensible enough (but just because communism sounds nice, doesn’t mean it’s a great thing in reality). Then in chapter 2, we learn that Peter and Lorna aren’t buying into the cult beliefs. They’re undercover and trying to film a documentary exposing Maggie as a scam artist. Ok, you think, I can back these two. But in chapter 3, Maggie’s entrancing voice and ideas push us to a painful breaking point. The cult members are gathered in a room and they eat an apple – but the apple is a symbol and Maggie makes the cult members do something that would have made me walk out and give up on infiltrating the cult. For Peter and Lorna though, it just divides them on their undercover mission. They both have a fear, but while one is fearing the cult’s extremeness, the other is fearing that this cult might be right. As an audience member, this also starts to divide your beliefs– what is really going on in this film and who is right? The next few chapters further divide the couple as more things toe the line and a crucial final scene will leave your understanding turned upside down. Though at first it seemed so sure that the cult was a scam, the end will have your surety shattered.
The brilliance of this film is its simplicity. The settings are sparse — half of the film is in a bare basement where the cult members are brought to after being blindfolded. There’s not really any soundtrack to carry your emotions. All there really is the dialogue, and more specifically, Maggie’s voice. Words are not wasted in this film and almost everything said either moves the plot by introducing a new idea, developing the characters or issuing a challenge.
“Sound of My Voice” is not really like anything else and in an era when most movies are big budget special effect extravaganzas with little substance, “Sound of My Voice” has a quiet, refreshing genius. It’s a chilling thriller with intelligence and is a film that should not be missed.