Brit Marling made a splash at last year’s Sundance Film Festival as co-writer, producer and star of two ambitious indie movies made on a shoestring. Both films are thought-provoking fables featuring emotionally damaged protagonists and a sci-fi slant. Both are packed with interesting ideas and intriguing twists. And both don’t quite fully come off.
In Another Earth, released last year, the appearance of an identical second Earth in the solar system helps a guilt-stricken student (played by Marling) and a grieving widower find redemption. In Sound of My Voice a young couple (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) infiltrate a shadowy cult, planning to make a documentary film that will expose the group’s charismatic leader as a charlatan.
The duo, Peter and Lorna, first encounter the guru-like Maggie (played by Marling) in an anonymous basement somewhere in suburban Los Angeles, following some cloak-and-dagger subterfuge involving blindfolds, plastic cuffs and a night-time drive, plus the ritual of a shower, a change into a hospital-type gown and a bizarre secret greeting that looks like a cross between a Masonic handshake and a game of cat’s cradle.
Finally, Maggie appears, ethereal, otherworldly, veiled in white and hooked up to an oxygen tank. But the claim she makes about herself is far more startling than her appearance: she comes from the future, from the year 2054, and is gathering hand-picked followers to prepare them for impending civil war and societal breakdown.
What could be more preposterous? Naturally, the sceptical Peter thinks it will be easy to debunk her as an obvious fraud, but as Maggie plays out her mind games on her followers, things don’t turn out as expected…
Marling’s Maggie is a fascinating figure and the hold she has over her troubled, questing acolytes is all too convincing. Unsurprisingly, the film’s strongest scenes are the ones in which she uses a mixture of charm, empathy and ruthless psychological manipulation to break down her followers’ defences.
Impressively, Marling and her co-writer, director Zal Batmanglij, manage to sustain their story’s central mystery right up to the end, though their film’s denouement could have done with a more potent dramatic charge. That said their effort puts most of Hollywood’s lame and bloated current output to shame. Marling may not come from the future, but when it comes to intelligent indie filmmaking she could very well be the future.
On general release from Friday 3rd August.
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