Sound of My Voice

As an outsider, it’s hard to understand how people can get caught up in a cult. And yet, people are very impressionable. Under the reign of Kim Il-sung, North Koreans believed him to be a god and were dumbfounded by his mortality when he died in 1994, but nevertheless immediately assigned the same status to his son Kim Jong-il, only to be shocked again by his death last year. And yet this kind of thing happens (albeit on a much smaller scale) even in environments where people are allowed much more freedom and in a society that generally looks down on them as kooks and weirdos.

In the film, Peter (Christopher Denham) was all too familiar with this phenomenon. His mother had been in a cult when she got cancer, and was convinced to try to heal herself through faith rather than medicine. When she died, Peter was traumatized and developed a great hatred for cults, which only grew over the years. Now that he’s an adult, he wants to ensure that others aren’t suckered into making the same kind of mistake. When he and his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) learned of a cult in their area, they decided to try to infiltrate it and expose it (and its leader) as a fraud.

The process of infiltrating the cult wasn’t as easy as they’d hoped, because this particular cult was very secretive and very exclusive. But their diligence paid off, and eventually they found themselves face to face with Maggie (Brit Marling). Maggie claimed to have traveled back in time from the year 2054, after war had ravaged the nation and created a post-apocalyptic dystopia. But despite Peter’s intelligence and enlightenment, it’s hard to get past her charisma, and sometimes she even seems to make a little sense.

Sound of My Voice is a beautifully haunting film. Despite going in a kind of predictable direction (and having a trailer which unfortunately gives away more than I would have liked), it somehow manages to maintain a degree of tension and uncertainty. We’re not only concerned about the cult taking an unpleasant turn (e.g., a Jonestown-style mass suicide or a Waco-like militia), but also the possibility of Peter and Lorna getting discovered or sucked in too deep. Its 85-minute runtime and chapter-based progression keep it moving quickly, but it doesn’t feel rushed or like we’re getting short-changed.

I’ve actually seen the film twice now, and was surprised to find how well it holds up to multiple viewings. Even when I knew exactly what was coming, it still had a couple of riveting moments and a high degree of emotional impact. It’s not at all heavy or overpowering, but just like a couple of great moments in Jaws that can still make me jump no matter how many times I watch it, I suspect that Sound of My Voice is something that will have an effect each time you see it.