One of the best films I saw at SXSW this year was SOUND OF MY VOICE, a lean, disturbing micro-thrill of a film that features strong relationships as well as a strong genre bend. The film debuted at Sundance 2011’s NEXT series and the director, Zal Batmanglij, co-wrote the screenplay with his enigmatic star Brit Marling.  An actress with no formal training, Marling dominates the screen in this small vehicle, which makes the other performances less compelling (this is due mostly to a brief bout of clichéd writing).

Lorna and Peter (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) play a pair of somewhat hapless documentary filmmakers who try to infiltrate the cult that Marling (“Maggie”) leads, to expose what must be a sham and get the story. In a great opening, we learn over an efficient and very unique montage that cult members join Maggie nightly in a San Fernando Valley basement to talk, sing, meditate, and train in general to become ‘chosen ones’ — as Maggie is really, um, from the future, here to warn a few good folks about the coming disasters in America.

As one might expect, Maggie’s undeniable force, vulnerability and charm begin to drive a wedge between Lorna and Peter. That particular line does not play out so interestingly. It’s the sci-fi line – the question of whether or not Maggie is legit – that provides the intrigue here. The movie is really feuled by Marling’s performance, and the unique scenarios written around her character. While the Peter and Lorna storylines are a bit thin or familiar, Maggie’s story gives us enough nourishment. While the film’s earnest tone can at points feel a little silly, Marling steers it back on course. It’s a very fun ride; and worth watching out for its inevitably (I hope) larger debut.

Watch a clip here:

– AH