Tag Archives: Sound of My Voice

Countdown: Best No-Frills SciFi

Scarlett Johansson shoulders the heft of a new and impressive low key SciFi flick opening next weekend, Under the Skin. It got us to thinking about those understated genre gems that rethink science fiction cliches and wow us for it. You don’t need laser blasters, black holes or rankors to create a memorable fantasy film. Here  are a handful of our favorite low-intensity yet high-impact SciFi flicks.


6. Another Earth (2011)

The first of two Brit Marling films to get the nod, Another Earth spins a science-sketchy but emotionally brave tale of a young woman, a car accident, and a duplicate Earth. Go in expecting a deliberately paced, moving and clever character study and you won’t be disappointed by errors in scientific data concerning gravitational pulls. Co-writer/star Marling delivers with understated authority.

5. The Sound of My Voice (2011)

Co-writing, starring and impressing a second time in the same year, Marling became a kind of low key SciFi goddess in 2011. Or a prophet – at least for this eerie, daring film. Two fledgeling documentarians go under cover to secretly film a cult whose leader (Marling) claims to be from the future. Surprising, evocative and captivating without so much as one second’s FX, the film hits its marks and keeps you guessing.

4. Timecrimes (2007)

This one is nutty, and absolutely required viewing for anyone with an interest in space/time continuum conundrums. So much can go wrong when you travel just one hour back in time. An always clever experiment in science fiction and irony, Timecrimes is a spare, unique and wild ride.

3. Primer (2004)

Made for $7000, this film is, in itself, an act of science fiction. Writer/director Shane Carruth, taking his first of two spots on the countdown, drums up all new ways to consider the havoc a time machine could wreak. It would be the most streamlined, absorbing and ingenious film of its kind if there were other films of its kind.

2. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

An outstanding premise, generous performances, and a director who knows when to go in for the comedic kill and  when to lean on compassion add up to one of the most clever, most fun time-travel-and-slackers movies ever.

1. Upstream Color (2013)

He waited 9 years between films, but in 2013, writer/director Shane Carruth delivered an awe inspiring take on identity crisis. The film defies summarization and expectations, but its dreamlike tale of lovers rebuilding their shattered lives with more in common than they realize is a poignant, beautiful, lyrical wonder.

Marling Heads in Interesting Directions

The East

by Hope Madden

If we’re honest, I think we are all either secretly impressed by and quietly frightened of Anonymous, or we’re openly impressed by and quietly frightened of them. I personally haven’t done much to draw their ire – I haven’t rigged an election, abused a teen, or even misused Wikipedia for my own malicious gain. Yes, I broke into my neighbor’s house when I was 8 and stole a bunch of Barbie clothes. It’s true – they might come for me for that! But you don’t have to be a potential target to worry over unchecked power, no matter how much genuine good a group does.

That conflict is the heartbeat of Brit Marling’s new film The East.

Marling is a filmmaker to watch. She’s co-scripted three films in which she’s starred, each offering an intimate, thoughtful, refreshingly off-kilter perspective.

In this work, Marling plays Sarah, an undercover agent working for a corporate counter terrorism firm. She combats terrorists combating big business. In her first assignment, she infiltrates the anarchist collective The East, a group using an “eye for an eye” approach to retaliate against eco-destructive corporate greed.

Early on, the film feels sometimes lazily scripted, as happenstance and coincidence play too large a role in Sarah’s investigation. But the film mostly overcomes these faults. Co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij builds tension well, and – as is often the case with Marling’s work – the film is not taking you exactly where you think it is.

Marling’s finest performance has been as the guru at the center of Sound of My Voice – also co-scripted and directed by Batmanglij – but she hasn’t yet disappointed. Here she possesses a veneer of calm that makes the inner conflict that much more provocative.

It helps that she’s joined by such a strong cast. Playing Sarah’s mentor, Patricia Clarkson is exquisite, as always. Ellen Page plays against type and succeeds, and Alexander Skarsgard shines, as well, in a tough role that requires him to be at once admirable and despicable.

The East is a finely tuned thriller with a thoughtful story to tell. What looks at first like heavy-handed liberalism morphs into  moral ambiguity by the second act, but Marling’s not done yet. She makes some interesting choices, and as this film points out, the choice is always there to make.