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With a twist 'Sound of My Voice,' Brit Marling are quietly compelling

Brit Marling has, in short order, become one of my favorite people in movies.

She has, at 30, written and starred in two films that, at the very least, have done one utterly remarkable thing: They each had an ending that screwed your head around 180 degrees.

The first was "Another Earth," whose premise was that another Earth -- our planet's twin in every way -- suddenly showed up in our night sky.

The resultant drama, though, wasn't apocalyptic but intimate, about the effect of it all on a young woman and a man she begins to work for. Its ending was one no one saw coming. Much conversation in the car home was guaranteed.

"Sound of My Voice" is her new film -- a tale of two journalists assiduously investigating a cult that has gathered around a young woman who lives a hermetic and well-controlled life in a basement and claims to come from the future.

There is no pretending that all of this continuously and equally rivets your attention. This is a movie with a tiny budget, with Marling as both writer and the charismatic young woman who gathers a group of acolytes and worshippers. It involves a little more money than might be found in the cinematic equivalent of a garage band in rock, but not much more.

But you'll find a favorable rating on it for three important reasons:

1. Its ending, just like that of "Another Earth," recalls that wonderful old tradition of surprise endings (in literature they were called "O. Henry" endings, in tribute to the writer whose stories employed them so constantly) and leaves you swamped in climactic ambiguity. You leave the theater in an artfully chilled state of "say what?"

2. An extraordinary scene where this film ever so quietly asks one of the most profound questions about investigative journalism that I've come across in years.

The two journalists investigating the woman by going undercover as followers are played by Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius. They're lovers as well, but nothing seems to swerve their devotion to their investigation. That is especially true of the journalist played by Denham.

When, in one scene, he swallows a microphone to record surreptitiously the conversations of cult members with their leader, we're moved to wonder: Who is the more dangerous cultist here, a woman who tells her followers to "stop thinking and start breathing" or a man capable of swallowing a microphone to expose her as a dangerous fraud?

Is it, in fact, possible that investigative journalism itself is, in some ways, analogous to an extreme cult?

Deny as one will, it's a provocative question, and the movie asks it implicitly.

3. It confirms Marling as a figure who, quiet as it's kept, is unlike anyone else around -- both an interesting actress and an extremely interesting writer capable of haunting you with her ideas.

As an actress, she's making another film about a political cult with director Zal Batmanglij, and she will be seen in a smaller role in "The Company You Keep," the next film of Robert Redford co-starring Julie Christie and Shia LaBeouf.

You don't want to make too many claims for "Sound of My Voice," but it's clear that Marling is a young woman who may not be ringing promotional bells in our Entertainment Industrial Complex but who deserves to be taken seriously.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to miss anything she does from now on.




Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Christopher Denham, Brit Marling, Nicole Vicius

DIRECTOR: Zal Batmanglij

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

RATING: R for language, sexual references and drugs.

THE LOWDOWN: Two journalists investigate an underground cult leader so fanatically that one of them begins to have doubts.