“Sound of My Voice” is a very low-budget psychological thriller from 2011, and much like “Another Earth,” it is an admirable attempt at a genre picture, featuring some interesting ideas, but ultimately hollow due to insistence on ambiguity for the sake of being ambiguous. A great premise is introduced, some character drama happens in the interim, and then BAM! an ambiguous and unsupported ending, used in an unfortunate attempt at profundity and lacking any real dramatic punch because really the movie refuses to come out and say anything.
The movie starts with Peter and Lorna infiltrating a very small but elaborate cult, based on all the bathing and sanitizing and secrecy, and apparently by the time the movie begins they have already made significant headway into the cult, established by the fact that they know some ridiculous and elaborate secret handshake that allows them ultimate access to the cult leader, Maggie, a young woman who claims to be a time-traveler from the year 2054, and who has come back to gather disciples to form sort of army for some future civil war or something like that. She’s all quietly charismatic and is introduced with an oxygen tank, showing she is ill, and she guides her news disciples through a series of exercises, and the whole while Peter and Lorna are there trying to suss her out and see what’s up.
This is a good premise, and the movie starts off well, with some great tension and well played out scenes, drawing us in to the intrigue and draw of this particular cultish figure. And Peter going from skeptic to possibly being a little sucked in works well, as Lorna sees Maggie’s effect on Peter. But the story goes way off the rails in the end, throwing everything out the window and shooting for something that they didn’t set up. It all leads to an ending that purposefully (and actually quite literally) asks you to decide for yourself what is real, which is bullshit because the movie doesn’t give enough information to allow us to make this decision.
The ultimate question of the movie is whether or not Maggie is a time traveler, and the movie tells us definitely that she is not a time traveler but a con artist, and this is after the movie spends an hour having Maggie state her case over and over but proffer no proof whatsoever in any way, shape or form. And then literally at the last moment the movie wants to show us something that says, “Oh yeah? Maybe she IS a time traveler!” and then cut to black, because ambiguity is, like, cool and stuff, man. And we all know this is bullshit and makes for a bullshit ending, especially on the heels of such a strong set up. Things didn’t have to be spelled out all the way, it’s not like the movie necessarily has to take a side, but it has to have a reason for not taking a side, and this movie shows no reason for doing that. It strives for emotional resonance and profound thought but it does it with a story that just isn’t thought out enough.
Slightly spoilery evidence of story sloppiness here: the movie starts going off the rails when Maggie asks Peter, who is a middle school teacher as well as a cult debunker (weird combination), to bring one of his students to Maggie, as she claims this little girl is her mother, or at least will grow up to be her mother. So it seems like Maggie obviously knows somehow that Peter is this girl’s teacher, yet this would be a massive coincidence since Peter is an infiltrator and lied his way into the cult to begin with so he could expose them. It just doesn’t make any sense when you actually think about it. Yet this is what the movie wants you to be invested in so they can bring home the explosive, question mark ending.
Another missed opportunity, just like “Another Earth,” to deliver on an enticing premise due to a lack of connection to the movie’s central conceit with the story’s characters and their own arcs. “Sound of My Voice” is disappointing, largely due to showing some promise and having some well put together scenes, but mostly due to the ending that refuses to answer even one question it brings up.