Outside of the Sundance Film Festival, you may not have heard of Sound of My Voice, the cult drama from writers Brit Marling (Another Earth) and Zal Batmanglij. Directed by Batmanglij and starring Marling, Sound of My Voice follows a journalist (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius) as they investigate a cult lead by a supposed time-traveler and end up drinking the Kool-Aid. In the lead-off presentation at WonderCon today, the filmmakers screened the first 12 minutes of the movie. Much like the actors on screen themselves, I found myself being pulled into the mystery of it while wanting to take a step back to due the film’s thinly veiled sense of menace. After watching a screening of the new trailer, it’s clear that the menace is not only present throughout Sound of My Voice, it escalates dramatically.
Sound of My Voice, also starring Richard Wharton and Christy Meyers, opens April 27th. Hit the jump to check out our recap of the panel.
If you’ve watched the first 12 minutes of Sound of My Voice before, you won’t be surprised to learn that the cult leader, Maggie (Marling) claims to be a visitor from the future. Specifically, she is from the year 2054, denoted by an anchor tattoo with the number 54 that is found on her ankle. In a discussion with the filmmakers, they chose to use the symbol of the anchor to represent time travelers because they use water as a medium, while the number simply marked the year they were from. Before we get into the Q&A with Batmanglij and Marling, cult-members Klaus (Wharton) and Mel (Meyers) came on stage to explain a little bit about their group and invite us like-minded individuals to join them. You can check out their message over at the film’s viral site.
An exclusive WonderCon trailer was then screened, which showed both the back story of the investigative couple, Peter and Lorna, from their planning stages, as well as the escalating tension between the two, catalyzed by the manipulative Maggie. The feeling of dread mounts as Maggie gathers more and more devoted followers, makes plans to move them out of the basement to more of a permanent campsite and starts asking them to do increasingly questionable things. At the risk of ruining any more of the story, I’ll stop there, as I’ve been told that this is definitely a film to see knowing as little as possible going into it.
After that, Batmanglij and Marling took the stage to field questions about Sound of My Voice. I’ve listed their responses in bullet points below:
- The idea for the film came from an interest in the number of fringe groups in and around Los Angeles. Sound of My Voice started from the idea of a group (they didn’t want to call them cults) that was led by a time-traveler who couldn’t leave her basement (due to our time’s microorganisms that affected her immune system.)
- They wanted to explore the dichotomy between an actual legitimate time traveler who was unable to relate or exist comfortably in our time versus a skilled con-artist who could convince people that her story was true. Marling played on the fact that her character Maggie both chain-smoked and took lots of vitamins habitually.
- For the project, they researched historical cults (like Jonestown) and their leaders, many of whom were predominantly former actors or preachers. They also wanted to explore how a female cult leader would act. Marling’s “Maggie” was a combination of maternal presence as well as a seductress.
- When asked about what would make people want to join a cult like this, Batmanglij responded that “we’re all looking for meaning in our lives, the promise of something extraordinary.”
- As far as the cast and budget for Sound of My Voice, nearly everyone worked for free to make the film, which was shot on two 7D series SLRs, mostly out of Marling’s apartment. There was a great story about having to film a scene on a plane, so they purchased a $25 flight to San Francisco, shot the scenes in the air, grabbed some french fries when they landed and finished the shoot on the way back. As they were filming, a flight attendant asked if they wanted her to take the picture so that director Batmanglij could be in the shot.
- When asked about finding substantial and meaningful roles in Hollywood as a young actress, Marling confessed that she turned to writing in order to create those types of roles for herself.
- Following up on the exclusive cut of the trailer, Marling revealed Maggie as “kind, gentle and sympathetic, but also vicious, snake-like and possessing scorpion energy.” Marling herself commented that a friend of hers didn’t realize she possessed such “capacity for cruelty.” When asked about what goes down in the basement, Batmanglij replied, “Shit happens in that basement,” referring to the escalation of menace.
While the film has already screened at a previous Sundance festival, it definitely looks like one to check out if it happens to be playing a theater near you when it releases on April 27th. Check out the official synopsis and poster below and follow along with our continuing WonderCon coverage here.
Following much preparation, Peter and Lorna are given an address. In the dead of night, they pull off the lonely road and await further instructions. Soon they part with their clothes and belongings. After they shower and clean themselves thoroughly, they are blindfolded and whisked to an undisclosed location, where they descend into a basement. Once downstairs, they perform the complicated handshake and are able to gain entry into the group. With that, the young couple, who have been posing as believers, successfully infiltrate the cult’s inner sanctum and meet enigmatic leader Maggie, portrayed by the promising Brit Marling (also cowriter and producer). What follows is a delicately paced and riveting plunge into a psychological maelstrom of uncertainty and danger. Filmmaker Zal Batmanglij’s feature debut crackles with a mesmerizing command of form, offering no easy answers to the elusive search for truth.