Debut feature film director Zal Batmanglij and his cowriter and star Brit Marling sought not just to provoke their audience in Sound of My Voice, but to entertain as well. Batmanglij is transparent in his desires to shake up Hollywood a bit by melding art house and psychological thriller, looking to both connect and captivate his viewer at the same time.
Sound of My Voice follows documentary filmmakers Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) who seek more than just a mundane existence with ordinary jobs. In their search, they latch onto a lead and follow it to a small cult, intent on exposing its leader, Maggie (Marling), a beautiful, ethereal and altogether mysterious young woman who claims to be from the future. They pose as members and infiltrate the group, and what follows is a nuanced and thoughtful story about the different ways one can spiral down the rabbit hole.
Visually, Batmanglij wanted to explore the palette of what claustrophobia looks and feels like. Many of the scenes in the film take place in a stark basement room in an anonymous house in the Valley of Los Angeles. Batmanglij says the choice to keep everything as anonymous as possible was deliberate—not seeing Peter and Lorna driving to the house, staying closed in the basement, tight shots, lots of cuts and muted colors—all in an effort to make the viewer as uncomfortable as the characters in the story are in their unknown environment.
To achieve this unpleasant visual narrative aspect of the film, Batmanglij employed Rachel Morrison, a talented and driven cinematographer originally from Cambridge, Mass. The two had gone to school together at the American Film Institute and had never worked on the same project before, but always talked of working collaboratively someday.
Morrison, who has an affinity for gritty drama, as revealed in Travis Fine's Any Day Now and Marni Zelnick's Druid Peak, and also carries a background in photojournalism, documentary work and reality TV, loved the story and was thrilled to be a part of telling it.
"Rachel did a fabulous job with limited resources," says Batmanglij. "One of the great things about Rachel is her history working on The Hills. She and her crew had learned to light for multiple camera angles, and adapt in the moment to find the story as it was unfolding. That really adds to a level of authenticity, while maintaining a cinematic quality."