The word is spreading, it seems. There's a recruitment point, in the old strip mall, where you can find them. The people who listen to Maggie — you know, the woman in the basement. Nobody knows that much about her; it's like she just appeared out of nowhere. She's said not to be one of us. And her followers — they believe. That's all it takes to inspire substitute teacher Peter (Christopher Denham) and rehabbed former party girl Lorna (Nicole Vicius), as it does for so many couples, to infiltrate a cult together to make a documentary film.
The steadily unnerving no-budget thriller Sound of My Voice immerses us in the process of their infiltration. When we finally meet Maggie (co-star/co-writer Brit Marling, who performed the same duties for the impressive Another Earth), she's a fascinating combination of elements; physically weak but mentally sharp, waifish but alluring, ethereal but a bit of a diva. In the film's centerpiece, an emotional grilling during a communal Roman shower, she shows us just a hint of her observational abilities, and it's as electrifying as it is destructive (and perversely liberating) to Peter. Marling plays the scene alternately as Spartan drill sergeant and soothing therapist, escalating the movie to a higher level of psychodramatic unease.
Director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij (whose brother, Vampire Weekend's Rostam, provides the film's score) has a gift for making a persuasive, cohesive stylistic universe out of mundane settings: the lack of special effects gives the movie's ideas a concrete grounding. He also gets great performances out of his cast, whose unfamiliarity also becomes a virtue. The result is an original and progressively disquieting suspense film, leavened with elements of sci-fi and political thrillers, yet always true to its unique vision of a world slowly stripped of its certainties. In a stroke of marketing genius, the distributor has made the first 12 minutes of Sound of My Voice viewable online. It won't take that long to get hooked — the scary state we begin to share with its protagonists.