Just the typical guru next door
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012
Brit Marling seems to have figured out how to avoid the pitfall of Hollywood typecasting. The actress simply writes her own starring vehicles.
But after "Another Earth" - last year's breakout film for the 29-year-old Georgetown University grad, which she co-wrote with director Mike Cahill - and the new "Sound of My Voice" (penned with director Zal Batmanglij), Marling seems less in danger of creating the same part over and over again than the same movie.
Both projects are slightly thriller-ish, sci-fi-flavored tales, rich in psychological complexity. And both end with startling, last-minute plot twists that, while nicely mind-messing, are less than wholly satisfying. They're really interesting movies built on really interesting lead performances, but they're not quite able to seal the deal.
Not that the part she plays in "Sound of My Voice" is anything like her role in "Another Earth." There, Marling portrayed a somewhat mousy woman who is given the chance to escape her guilt about causing a fatal accident by traveling to a duplicate version of Earth that suddenly shows up in the sky. In "Sound," she plays the messianic leader of a quasi-religious cult who claims to be a time traveler from the future.
The two parts could not be more different. The movies, at least structurally, could.
As Maggie, a white-robed guru who cultivates a small, secretive band of followers out of her suburban basement, Marling comes across as nothing like either the Rev. Jim Jones (of the infamous Peoples Temple) or Marshall Applewhite (of the equally infamous Heaven's Gate cult), who went by the name "Do."
For one thing, she's a beautiful young woman, with an intense but also strangely offhand manner. "Hi," she says, by way of greeting a couple of new converts. (You half expect her to add, "Can I get you a beer or a soda? Maybe some cheese and crackers?") Her tone is in sharp contrast to the hoops that prospective cult members must jump through in order to receive her wisdom, which involve blindfolds, disinfectant showers, eating live earthworms and an elaborate (and frankly rather silly) secret handshake.
The new converts, in this case, are Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), aspiring journalists who have joined the cult not because they are believers, but because they are bent on unmasking Maggie as a fraud. The ever-present risk of exposure provides most of the film's ample suspense, with the rest of it coming from a subplot involving a mysterious girl (Avery Pohl) who is a student at the elementary school where Peter teaches. Much of what is so odd about this little girl, however, is never adequately explained.
That's because, as with "Another Earth," there's a matter-of-factness to the film's weirdness. Neither movie plays like a conventional sci-fi thriller, instead drawing our attention away from the outlandish premise to the psychological issues at the center of the story. In this case, it's Peter's growing uncertainty about what, or who, he's dealing with. Does it matter that Maggie might be a charlatan if she's truly capable of helping people?
That's the film's most intriguing, and open-ended, question - not the more gimmicky one that will leave you hanging, and probably disappointed, at the end.
Contains obscenity, brief nudity and worm-eating.