After playing countless gory video games with flying limbs and decapitated, rotting necromorphs, I’m pretty sure my brain has been desensitized to violence.
Gratuitous fictionalized blood just isn’t scary anymore.
So what scares me now?
Sure, there aren’t any zombies or mass-murdering robots, but the real world is just as scary, if not scarier.
Zal Batmanglij’s subtle film “Sound of My Voice” is proof. There’s no blood, no guns and no death.
The idea of a cult—the idea of mass manipulation—is plain scary.
Batmanglij exploits this fear as two wannabe documentary filmmakers, Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) and Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius), try to expose a local cult.
The cult follows Maggie (Brit Marling), who is supposedly from a future of civil war, death and destruction.
Her goal, she vaguely says, is to “save” her followers, to take them to a safer place.
Maggie herself isn’t grotesque or frightening—actually, she’s quite an attractive woman.
And Marling’s dynamic portrayal of Maggie is spot on.
In one scene, she praises her subjects, calling them “brave” or “committed.”
But at the drop of a pin, she believably and completely changes her tone, berating and humiliating her followers.
She calls Peter an “anal retentive prick,” asks if his mother was a “whore” and implies that his father molested him.
However, whether it’s Maggie’s charm, good looks, manipulative skill or all three, her members remain transfixed by her enigmatic background.
Shiver-inducing creepiness also comes from the cult process.
Members are blindfolded, restrained and driven to an empty basement, where Maggie leads strange team-building exercises.
Maggie asks her members to purge themselves of “knowledge” by eating and then vomiting up an apple. And together they participate in group dancing sessions, where members “free” themselves.
It’s alarming and creepy because of how much control Maggie has over each individual member.
A character’s wife even leaves her husband in order to stay in the cult.
And by the end, while he doesn’t admit it, Peter succumbs to Maggie’s manipulative charismatic brainwashing, slowly becoming her pawn.
Throughout the film, no one is severely hurt, and as far as the audience knows, there’s no master plan to kill the members.
Yet the entire time, you’ll get an unshakable case of the heebie-jeebies.
It’s effective filmmaking and Batmanglij deserves credit.
Batmanglij is equally effective in the film’s organization.
In a brief 90 minutes, he tells a compelling story—background stories and all— without too many holes.
And while Batmanglij’s been through school at the American Film Institute, “The Sound of My Voice” is impressive for a first movie.
Sure, it does seem low budget with its simple sets and relatively unknown actors, but “The Sound of My Voice” does not feel like a first film.
It’s polished, it’s coherent and it’s frightening.
So if horror games and movies just aren’t doing it anymore, watch “Sound of My Voice.”
You’ll get goosebumps.
Prove your humanity