“Sound of My Voice” takes place mostly in an unremarkable finished basement in an ordinary Southern California tract home, in which a young woman of average physical appearance named Maggie tells a small group of regular people the most extraordinary things. Chief among them: that she is from the year 2054 and can help us prepare for the future.
This low-tech approach to what sounds like a science-fiction story is in keeping with the movie’s larger theme about appearances being deceiving. “Sound of My Voice” doesn’t look like a time-travel movie any more than Maggie looks like a time traveler. Yet there’s something compelling about her, something that has convinced a handful of apparently rational people that she’s telling the truth. As viewers, we’re just as intrigued.
Maggie is played by Brit Marling, who cowrote the screenplay with director Zal Batmanglij and who also cowrote and starred in “Another Earth,” another low-budget character drama set against a sci-fi backdrop. (This is her “thing,” apparently.) Maggie is the focal point, but the film’s protagonist is Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham), a twentysomething know-it-all who wants to make a documentary exposing Maggie’s secretive little cult. Peter and his girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius), posing as earnest seekers of truth and fitted with a hidden recording device, go through the elaborate measures set by Maggie’s handlers to gain access to her. That means scrubbing themselves clean, putting on disinfected clothing, and allowing themselves to be blindfolded while they’re transported in a minivan to Maggie’s location.
Though Maggie is frail and sickly (due to the differences between our environment and 2054’s), and despite being soft-spoken, she has the confident aura of a cult leader. Rather than try to prove to everyone that she really is from the future, she’s content to tell her story and let people believe it or not. That in itself is unnerving: she’s not manipulative like a con artist or insistent like a crazy person. She’s serene, like someone utterly at peace, someone with nothing to prove.
She also has an uncanny ability to read people, which makes her interactions with the duplicitous Peter mesmerizing. We don’t know what Maggie’s deal is yet, but we do know Peter’s: he’s skeptical, he’s lying, and he has ulterior motives. What happens if she and her handlers catch on to his plan of exposing them? If Peter has to abort his mission, how are we going to find out what’s going on?? Meanwhile, the more evenings Peter and Lorna spend with Maggie’s group, the more personal Peter’s obsession becomes, and the more his relationship with Lorna is strained. For her part, Lorna finds the fellow cultists nice enough, and spends some time socializing with one, a middle-aged woman named Joanne (Kandice Stroh).
Interspersed with all of this quiet urgency are scenes focused on an odd little girl named Abigail (Avery Kristen Pohl) whom Peter encounters at his day job as a schoolteacher. The film shrewdly gives us no information at first to hint at how Abigail is connected to the main story, trusting us to be patient until the time comes.
That being said, even when the time does come, there is room for interpretation about what the truth is. If it wasn’t clear already, “Sound of My Voice” is the type of film that’s more about the journey than the destination. I found the journey riveting, thought-provoking, and vivid — but yeah, part of me wishes the conclusion were more conventionally satisfying. On the other hand, maybe this is how stories are told in 2054, and we’d better get used to it now.
B+ (1 hr., 25 min.; )