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Precision, tension and an angelic cult leader make for a nifty paranoid thriller

As the skillfully told, small-scale drama Sound of My Voice unfolds, a young couple—Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius)—join a mysterious, smock-wearing cult of budding survivalists operating secretly, and seemingly benignly, out of a suburban basement.

The group’s leader, a beautiful 20-something (co-screenwriter Brit Marling) sporting ethereal blond hair and an oxygen tank, claims to be from the future.

The veracity of that claim partly drives the hushed suspense of director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature, but so does the anxiety surrounding Peter and Lorna’s motives for infiltrating the group.

With storytelling economy and dramatic precision often missing from today’s independent films, Batmanglij augments the building blocks for a nifty paranoid thriller with sharp commentary on our faction-centered society and the pitfalls of reinvention. Batmanglij’s tonal command is often unsettling: Scenes with knife’s-edge narrative tension surprise with moments of astute characterization and vice versa.

Your taste for the current vogue in unresolved endings will dictate your response to the last scene, but until that point, Sound of My Voice—bolstered by the fine performances, especially Marling’s cryptically angelic authority—is an appealing hybrid of genre smarts and a questioning sensibility.

Sound of My Voice (R) ★★★★☆

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A comedy-drama saved by the casting bell, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel arranges for a tiptop collection of British character women and men to bring out the best in a pleasantly predictable story. Wait. Shouldn’t that be “unhappily predictable?” Not always, folks: Some projects are better off going easy on the surprises, and concentrating on a reassuring level of actorly craft.