Here’s how it works: You follow the directions to the house, you pull the car into the garage, you don’t get out until you’re told. Cryptic instructions will be issued; washing and dressing in a white hospital gown is a must. A gray-haired gentleman with a startling resemblance to Rush singer Geddy Lee will perform an elaborate patty-cake handshake, and if you pass that test, you join the others at the next level. Soon, a Madonna with an oxygen tank—her name is Maggie (cowriter Brit Marling)—appears, smiling benevolently at her “faithful” followers. She will lead them to salvation. Also, she claims to have traveled back in time from the year 2054.
That two new recruits, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), are trying to infiltrate this cult in order to make a documentary almost seems beside the point, and therein lies Sound of My Voice’s weakness as a thriller and its strength as a mind-blower. Cowriter-director Zal Batmanglij and his conspirator are more interested (and adept) in manufacturing mood than narrative momentum, treating the characters’ journalistic quest as an excuse to showcase creepazoid-as-fuck cult behavior. Which the film does, in spades: You will never hear the Cranberries’ “Dreams” or watch a dozen people vomiting up apples the same way again.
But stick around, as far more intriguing concerns are dealt with: Is Maggie actually from the future? And what’s up with the mysterious older lady and young girl we keep cutting away to? Marling has already demonstrated a facility for penning sci-fi–tinged scenarios (she also cowrote the parallel-planet head-scratcher Another Earth), and her latest collaboration plies her obsession with reality-bending dislocation to even greater effect. Ambiguities trump answers, and possibly even logic. For those who aren’t burdened by such things, the loopy, off-kilter pace and frontal-lobe frying provide their own unconventional pleasures. It’s a cult film, in more ways than one.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear
Read our interview with star Brit Marling