Brit Marling became the sensation of last year’s Sundance Film Festival thanks to two movies she co-wrote and starred in, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice. Like the more heavily hyped Another Earth, Voice deals with a sci-fi concept in a lo-fi setting, although it’s much more ambiguous about the true nature of what’s happening. Where Another Earth struggled to represent large-scale sci-fi ideas on a shoestring budget, Voice succeeds by keeping its more outlandish elements obscured by doubt.
Marling plays Maggie, an ethereal young woman who lives isolated in a basement, apparently dependent on oxygen tanks and a strict diet to survive. She claims to be a time traveler from the year 2054, and she’s amassed a small but dedicated group of followers who believe she can point them to salvation in the face of the coming apocalypse. To aspiring filmmakers Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), though, Maggie is a dangerous cult leader who needs to be exposed, and they set out to infiltrate her group and document what they find.
The question of Maggie’s true identity is never answered, and director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij does a great job of balancing skepticism and apparent proof, while Marling makes Maggie completely believable as a mesmerizing figure who could draw in people seeking meaning in their lives. Maggie’s techniques are both disturbing and entrancing, with a sense of sickening suspense as she plays people like puppets. Part Twelve Monkeys, part Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sound of My Voice is haunting all the way through to its satisfyingly open-ended finale.