The Films of Zal Batmanglij
Sound of My Voice (May 12/12)
A striking debut from a promising new filmmaker, Sound of My Voice follows a journalist (Christopher Denham's Peter) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius's Lorna) as they infiltrate a cult centered around a woman (Brit Marling's Maggie) claiming to be from the future. It's an undeniably compelling premise that's employed to consistently engrossing effect by Zal Batmanglij, as the director has infused Sound of My Voice with a captivatingly ominous feel that's reflected in its various attributes - with, especially, the spare visuals and moody score perpetuating the movie's pervasively mysterious atmosphere. Scripters Batmanglij and Marling effectively (and immediately) draw the viewer into the proceedings by emphasizing the protagonists' initial exposure to the aforementioned cult, with the strength of this stretch heightened by Marling's impressively charismatic and downright hypnotic turn as Maggie. Batmanglij's subdued sensibilities prove an ideal match for the screenplay's decidedly low-key bent, and there's little doubt that the movie benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of seemingly random (yet thoroughly intriguing) elements (eg what's the deal with that little girl with the Lego obsession?) By the time the unexpectedly tense climax rolls around, Sound of My Voice has definitively established itself as a thought-provoking and conversation-starting sci-fi endeavor - with the note-perfect (and slightly ambiguous) conclusion effectively cementing this feeling.
Zal Batmanglij's first film since the stunning Sound of My Voice, The East follows Brit Marling's Sarah, an operative for a private intelligence firm, as she agrees to go undercover within the titular anarchist group - with the movie detailing Sarah's inevitable struggle to remain neutral as she befriends the group's various members (including Ellen Page's Izzy, Alexander Skarsgård's Benji, and Shiloh Fernandez's Luca). Batmanglij, working from a screenplay cowritten with Marling, offers up a tremendously engaging first act that seems to promise a captivating little thriller, with the movie's engrossing atmosphere heightened by Batmanglij's strong directorial choices and the uniformly affecting performances. (And it doesn't hurt, either, that Batmanglij and Marling have peppered the narrative with a host of irresistibly intriguing little touches.) The East begins to lose its grip on the viewer as it enters its almost excessively deliberate midsection, however, with Batmanglij's lackadaisical sensibilities compounded by a running time that feels palpably overlong (which certainly stands in sharp contrast to Sound of My Voice's blazing, blistering 85 minutes). The periodic inclusion of electrifying sequences - eg the East infiltrates a classy cocktail party - proves effective at generally keeping things interesting, yet it's clear that the movie is, for the most part, unable to live up to its completely compelling opening stretch. And although the film recovers for a nicely subdued finale, The East has, by that point, definitively established itself as a completely average piece of work that pales in comparison to Sound of My Voice.