The Voices (2014) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for bloody violence, and for language including sexual references
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Screenplay: Michael R. Perry
Review published February 8, 2015
The Voices features Ryan Reynolds (The Captive, R.I.P.D.) at his most likeable. The problem: he's playing a schizophrenic serial killer.
Mild-mannered nice guy Jerry Hickfang works in a factory in the tiny town of Milton. Jerry is functional at work, but things turn weird when he goes home -- his kind-hearted dog Bosco and more insidious cat Mr. Whiskers (both voiced by Reynolds) talk to him in human voices. His shrink (Weaver, Magic in the Moonlight) reminds him he absolutely needs to take his meds, but when he does so, he loses his "friends" to talk to, and he's so very, very lonely. Jerry tries to strike up a dating situation with co-worker Fiona (Arterton, Runner Runner), but she stands him up, only to run into him later when he's having some sort of psychotic break. Too bad for Fiona. And for anyone else unfortunate enough to be with Jerry when he's struggling.
The Voices marks an odd departure from form for Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi, who makes an interesting gamble to shoot what could have been just an odd, grisly horror-thriller as if it is an lighthearted comedy. But it's really only a comedy in his mind; the world that others see if they were to look in his apartment is ugly and horrific; they'd see the blood soaked in the furnishings and the severed heads he keeps in the refrigerator. Off his meds, he's a fruity as a loop, so his grasp on the severe nature of his deeds that continues to elude him as he keeps "making new friends" to keep him company.
While watching The Voices, I wondered just who I might recommend it to. It's not the kind of movie that some will find funny. After all, the film asks us to like someone who is committing unspeakably sickening acts, and to see the humor in the worldview of someone who clearly needs his medication, if not a mental institution. Luckily for me, I don't really have to worry about an uneasy endorsement, as the film ends up taking quite a few wonky turns down the road that ultimately makes it too uneven to suggest anyone watch it who isn't just looking for an offbeat terror-comedy.
One example: One of those turns involves a potential victim who is worried when she hasn't seen her two coworkers come in. News reports in the area have been discussing a serial killer on the loose (though I grant that may be in Jerry's mind), so she should already be mortified. She knows one of them was going to surprise Jerry at his house the night before, and, after reading a news article another coworker shows he about how Jerry has been mentally ill since childhood, rather than contact the authorities immediately, she does what no one would ever do -- go to Jerry's secluded apartment alone and knock on his door.
Another: There's a point in which Jerry confesses to someone what he's done, but can't let that person get away or call the authorities. He asks if this potential victim has packing tape, which he finds in two seconds in the top drawer of a desk of this person who probably wouldn't package much in that location. Contrivances like this start to pile up higher than Tupperware full of body chunks in Jerry's apartment.
While I admire The Voices for trying something different, I don't think it always pays off the way it is done. Certainly, Satrapi really does a wonderful, sometimes brilliant job as a director, but the darker elements of the story can't quite be remedied by the light delivery, even if it's merely the mindset of an unstable mind. Perhaps a little more emphasis toward pitch black humor instead of irreverence would have found the right balance, a la Psycho, a film that Satrapi references several times, also featuring a man who talks to voices that aren't there telling him to do ghastly things.
Admittedly, there is a lot to admire, and the cast is certainly up to the task, but The Voices has a few too many screws loose to have us in the right frame of mind to tap our feet to the wacky musical number that plays during the end credits.
©2015 Vince Leo