Even if you know a lot about cults, there’s a mystery at the heart of cult psychology that is singular in its creepiness. And that’s the mystery of identity: What happens to people as their personalities bend and waver and recede under the influence of the leader and the group? Do their identities change? Or do they, in effect, become ghost versions of who they were? Sound of My Voice, the story of two Los Angeles bohemians who infiltrate a cult to make a documentary exposé about it, is a small-scale, shot-on-DV movie that, in its stripped-down low-budget way, gets deeper into the fascination — the mental horror — of cults than Martha Marcy May Marlene did.
At the start, the two doc filmmakers — Peter (Christopher Denham), owlish and ironic, and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), docile and sincere — are blindfolded and driven to a drab suburban basement, where an elaborate secret handshake — it lasts 30 seconds — allows them to be led to an inner sanctum. There they meet Maggie, the white-robed cult leader, who claims to be from the year 2054. She’s played by Brit Marling with a mix of sensuality, hostility, and all-knowing attitude that is freakishly captivating, not to mention a little scary. The rituals are scary too — notably a group regurgitation that looks like something out of a very sick porno. It’s all about breaking down who people are, but does Peter get broken down too? Sound of My Voice doesn’t follow through on everything it sets up, yet it has a hushed and revealing psycho-intensity. It also has an oh-wow Twilight Zone ending that truly made me go, ”Oh, wow.” B+