Comedy Crime

Film Review: The Voices

February 13, 2015Ben Mk


The truth about cats and dogs...

Having an inner monologue is one thing — having three is something else entirely. And that's exactly the scenario Ryan Reynolds' character finds himself in in The Voices, the fourth film from Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi. In this offbeat horror-comedy, Reynolds plays a man tormented by his inner demons and struggling with sinister urges, who also happens to be trying to woo the woman of his dreams. But can he find it in himself to listen to his heart, or will he continue instead to heed the advice of his talking, four-legged companions?

   

Jerry Hickfang (Reynolds) is just your average small-town Joe. When he was 7 years old, his US Army Corps father moved him and his mother to the "Town of Industry" known as Milton — population: 4,504 — where he now works in the packing department at Milton Fixtures and Faucets International. After a long day, Jerry sometimes likes to frequent the local Chinese restaurant or head on down to the all-night burger joint on the county line. Otherwise, he'll retire to his apartment above the Mellow Lanes bowling alley, where he's been known to engage in lengthy conversations with his dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr. Whiskers.

Alright, so maybe Jerry isn't so ordinary after all. But who can blame him really? A family tragedy that occurred when he was still a boy resulted in a lengthy stay at a mental institution, and now his court-appointed psychotherapist, Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver), has put him on a strict regimen of pills to quell his delusional fantasies.

Enter Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a temp in Milton Fixtures and Faucets' accounting department and said woman of Jerry's dreams. The bad news: Fiona's a hoity-toity Brit, so any romance between her and a Yank like him has some serious obstacles to overcome. Yet Jerry keeps on trying, completely oblivious to the flirtatious advances of his own admirer, the down-to-earth Lisa (Anna Kendrick). Little does she know that Jerry's personable exterior masks a disturbing truth, for the imaginary voices in his head are about to drive him to commit some very real — and unspeakably heinous — acts.

Working from a screenplay by Paranormal Activity 2 scribe Michael R. Perry, Satrapi juxtaposes candy-colored 1950s surrealism with macabre ghoulishness, overwhelming audiences with Norman Rockwell-like perfection one moment, then shocking them with a gruesome crime scene straight out of Seven the next. The film even breaks into a spirited song-and-dance on a couple of occasions, further highlighting the incongruities between Jerry's disparate mental states.

Throughout it all, the one constant is Reynolds, whose performance as a mentally-disturbed and emotionally-fragile loner constantly at odds with his fractured psyche brings to mind Psycho's Norman Bates. Displaying impressive range, Reynolds bounces from drama to comedy, romance to horror, all at the drop of a hat, even lending his voice to Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, whom he bestows with a slow Southern drawl and a cranky Scottish brogue. He even manages to make his character truly relatable, which is no small feat, considering the extremely dark places the film goes to in its later acts.

As for Kendrick, Arterton and Weaver: they each bring remarkable depth and charisma to their roles, despite the relative brevity of their screen time. Ultimately though, one has to wonder how much of a draw this cast will be for moviegoers. Because despite the mainstream talent behind it, the movie itself — with its dark undertones and quirky execution — has niche appeal written all over it.

The Bottom Line After his turns in a string of dismal films such as Green Lantern and R.I.P.D., Ryan Reynolds may have been looking for a role to redeem himself. The good news is that he's found it in The Voices, a bizarre mash-up of serial-killer horror and romantic comedy, with a dash of musical thrown in for good measure. Obviously, it's not a movie for everyone. At the very least, it proves to be an interesting experiment. But give the film a chance and you may be surprised to find that it contains more heart than it does blood and guts.  Ben Mk





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this film review were adapted from my TIFF review of the film, published on September 12th, 2014.



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