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.