Both projects debuted at Sundance 2011 and although Another Earth, about a student attempting to atone for a tragedy in the shadow of a doppelgänger planet, came out first and hogged plaudits, Sound Of My Voice is equally as intriguing and thought-provoking, the more eerie and commercially thrilling of the two films, if not as visually confident.
Documentary-making couple Lorna (Nicole Vicius) and Peter (Christopher Denham) are blindfolded and taken to a cult fronted by Marling’s Maggie, a frail, ethereal young woman claiming to be from the year 2054.
Dressed in a white, Jesus-like shroud and dragging an oxygen tank around a drab suburban basement, Maggie soothes her misfit followers with tales of the postapocalyptic world to come, in which food is scarce but hippy-dippy values of free love and living off the land have taken over.
Maggie does plenty to fuel the dubious couple’s determination to covertly film and expose her, not least singing a song that’s supposedly from the future that will sound familiar to anyone owning a Cranberries CD.
But the charismatic cult leader also starts messing with their minds… and making increasingly bizarre demands.
Director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij might be a blander hand behind the camera than Mike Cahill (who performed identical duties on Another Earth), but he does instil a trance-like atmosphere of unease using simple techniques and strategies, including splitting the film into numbered chapters.
But the bottom line is that it’s Marling’s hypnotic performance that keeps the story cogs spinning, with Maggie drifting between an air of serene fragility and something far more ominous.
And like Another Earth, SOMV’s final scene delivers a nifty, rug-pulling jolt.
Like Martha Marcy May Marlene, this lo-fi psychodrama reaps the benefits of a mesmerising female lead, only this time as cult leader not disciple. Marling continues to impress.