If you suspected a cult was operating in your town – recruiting new converts, actively trying to grow their numbers, wearing white far too often – what would you do?
Call the cops? Start an anti-cult Facebook group? Move?
The answer for Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) is clear: Infiltrate the cult, record their secret activities, and expose their fraud and psychological manipulation to the world at large.
Peter is an investigative journalist at heart and the protagonist of Sound of My Voice, the independent film by Zal Batmanglij that is releasing today (although only in five theaters, sadly).
On a mission to discover more about this strange cult, Peter ends up joining and meeting the leader, a mysterious, ethereal and downright hypnotizing woman named Maggie who claims to be from the future.
The scenes in the cult headquarters (someone’s basement of course) where Maggie talks with her followers are emotionally raw and make you almost uncomfortable as a viewer. You feel voyeuristic or cruel for witnessing the extreme vulnerability of these people.
And Maggie, played with captivating focus by Brit Marling (who is the film’s co-writer who also starred in and co-wrote last year’s Another Earth), is equal parts calm and forceful, driving her believers and the viewer toward a drastic realization: faith requires devotion manifested as action. The trick is she gets to call the shots on what those actions are, including a startling request she makes of Peter to commit a crime.
Peter isn’t a lone soldier in this crusade, convincing his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) to expose the cult with him, but their relationship – and her trust in Peter – is tested as he grows closer to Maggie.
Sound of My Voice debuted at Sundance 2011, and the fact it’s opening now 15 months later is a sad testament to the slow distribution process many independent films have to go through, but Fox Searchlight did gain some indie cred by allowing the movie to stream its first 12 minutes online for free.
Batmanglij and Marling have already moved on to much bigger projects (Batmanglij directed a movie with Ellen Page that is in post-production, and Marling was in the Sundance 2012 flick Arbitrage with Richard Gere), but they’ve recently done a lot of press to support the release of the film and I believe it will succeed.
And if I’m wrong and it doesn’t take off right away, there’s always the chance this fantastic film about cults could become a cult film.