If you're in the market for the perfect cult leader, just call writer/actress Brit Marling. I'm positive that anyone who saw her in last year's Another Earth has been unconsciously holding their breath until they got another chance to spend 90 minutes with her on-screen. There's something about this woman that tugs at my curiosity, causing me to never take my eyes off of her flaxen hair and wise eyes. After two movies where her characters exist in alternate realities, I find myself wondering if she's really human at all, or if she's a graceful, majestic sylph that we happened to capture on film.
Also just like cult leaders, there's another side to that sylph. Her cerebral presentation and steady, unflinching gaze both combine to seem almost sinister--or at least vaguely annoying--when you're trying to get a handle on what's going on (this kind of person is probably a nightmare to take to a baseball game, or anyplace else where normal people frequent). It's that kind of duality that's at work in Sound of My Voice, where she plays Maggie, who claims she is from the future, but leaves it at that. The rest of her spiel is a bunch of ideas and vague references, all shared with people who have been scrubbed clean, blindfolded, and transported to her basement home in order to gaze upon her and prepare themselves…but for what?
And is she real or fake? This is precisely the kind of ambiguity that Marling and her co-writer Zal Batmanglij want audiences to focus on. Cult leaders aren't completely without good ideas, they just generally have veiled motives that they sneak in there when you're least expecting it. I spent the entire movie watching and waiting for the sly call to arms, but it never showed up in the way I was expecting. This is both the strength and weakness of the film, because I enjoyed being carried away in the Maggie Undertow as she made people eat apples and throw them up (you know, for symbolism's sake), and sing a Cranberries song. Unfortunately, when it ended, I felt cheated. It was too ambiguous for my taste, and left me feeling like I had scrubbed up, been blindfolded, and transported to her basement just to look at the garbage bag-covered floor spattered with apple vomit.
As compared to last year's post-traumatic-cult-stress-disorder movie, Martha Marcy May Marlene, this one encourages you to ask questions and have a long talk after the film, whereas the former film is more of a character study and slow burn reveal. I am confident in saying that Marling's future films will be every bit as mystical and thought-provoking as these past two, which is great. But ultimately, I have a ceiling when it comes to blurred lines, and I would have appreciated just a little bit more hand-holding from Brit this time. And to note, if she held my hand, I would never let it go.