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'Sound of My Voice' feels incomplete

In this film image released by Fox Searchlight,

In this film image released by Fox Searchlight, Chris Denham, center, and Brit Marling are shown in a scene from "Sound of my Voice. Credit: AP

A psychological drama about a small cult incubating in a Southern California suburb, "Sound of My Voice" serves as a good introduction to Brit Marling, who plays the magnetic leader, Maggie. A creative talent in her late 20s, Marling has bewitched the indie film world with a too-good-to-be-true combination of classic blond beauty, a Georgetown economics degree and a sudden output that includes the documentary "Boxers and Ballerinas" and the 2011 sci-fi feature "Another Earth." She also wrote and produced "Sound of My Voice" with first-time director Zal Batmanglij.

Marling's Maggie seems a new kind of cult leader: young, disarmingly pretty and, though ostensibly hailing from the year 2054, dressed like a contemporary indie-rocker. Her followers may wear the usual formless white uniforms, but Maggie lounges around in a vintage fur coat and sneaks cigarettes. Asked to sing a song from the future, she launches into "Dreams," the 1992 hit by the Cranberries.

That head-scratching moment (one of the film's funniest) is more fodder for the skeptical Peter (Christopher Denham), a budding documentarian recording the group with a micro-camera in his spectacles. He has a personal agenda, too, but Maggie quickly squeezes information from Peter that surprises even his longtime girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius). Jealousy ensues, as does a disturbing plot involving Peter's day job as an elementary schoolteacher.

"Sound of My Voice" feels more like another resumé-builder for Marling than a complete film, with half-realized ideas and an underwhelming finale (and some strained acting from the fledgling cast). That the movie is part of a possible trilogy doesn't make up for the thin, underdeveloped feel. But Marling, who weaves a strong spell, will probably keep appearing in our future.

PLOT A filmmaker investigating a homegrown cult begins to lose his focus. RATING R (language, adult themes)

CAST Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius


PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Malverne Cinema 5

BOTTOM LINE Feels more like a rough cut than a finished film, but star-to-be Marling is compelling as a disarmingly young and attractive cult leader.

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