Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Wha?: Sound of My Voice
Queer director Zal Batmanglij and his frequent collaborator, writer/actress Brit Marling, deserve more attention as one of the most interesting collaborative voices in Hollywood today. As the team behind the Netflix series The OA and the underrated thriller The East, the pair manage to craft intriguing, mysterious, and socially relevant stories that beg difficult moral questions…and that always include LGBTQ characters in some form.
Take, for example, Song of My Voice, the very first feature film upon which the two partnered. Originally conceived as a digital series for YouTube, early buzz caught the attention of Hollywood distributors. Fox Searchlight eventually released the film as a theatrical feature, where it garnered rave reviews and became an immediate cult hit.
The plot concerns an investigative filmmaker couple, Lorna and Peter (Nicole Vicius & Christopher Denham), that infiltrates a doomsday cult (which includes several gay couples) with the intention of making a documentary. Said cult follows the teachings of Maggie (Marling), a charismatic woman that claims to suffer from debilitating disease. She also drinks the blood of her followers as sustenance…so, that’s nice.
Maggie claims to have traveled from the year 2054 into the present, bringing knowledge of a planet ravaged by war, plague, and famine. Lorna and Peter first doubt Maggie’s tales of the future but eventually begin to wonder if she’s telling the truth. Then Maggie asks Peter to help her abduct an 8-year-old child who, Maggie says, is actually her mother…
Sound of My Voice is the rare kind of horror film in which no blood gets spilled. Batmanglij instead relies upon atmosphere and the outstanding performances of his actors to create a mood of dread and suspense. As with much of Marling’s work, audiences can read all the plot points of the movie in more than one way, which only adds to the hypnotic, beguiling quality of the story. By the time it concludes, viewers will feel starved for some kind of answer. But, as with many of life’s questions, the mystery might be an answer unto itself.
The mystery might also offer more fun than a definitive answer. As with the glut of unsolved mystery podcasts flooding the internet, Sound of My Voice revels in ambiguity, both moral and factual, and will leave viewers debating the movie’s real central question. Which is worse: if Maggie is a kidnapping, terrorizing con artist, or if she’s actually from an apocalyptic future?
Now that is a scary question.
Streams on Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.