Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is an upbeat man with a decent job, a crush on the office hottie Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and an overall bright sunshiny outlook on life. He also is mentally unstable, experiencing hallucinations of his verbally abusive cat telling him to be a serial killer while his dog argues with the cat that Jerry is a “good boy”, whenever he refrains from taking his anti-psychotic medication. You’d think the medication would help, but when medicated his world becomes dark and lonely as he’s reminded of how grim his past really is.
The Voices is one of those film’s that seems destined to become a cult hit. It’s rare we see serial killers portrayed in a darkly quirky way. It takes skilled filmmaking hands to make it work, and thanks to Michael R. Perry’s unabashedly looney script and a winning performance from Ryan Reynolds it does.
This is quite a shift in style for Iranian-born French director Marjane Satrapi, whose breakthrough was the Oscar-nominated animated feature Persepolis, a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi’s juggling more than a few genres here – horror, suspense, surreal and dark comedy – and we’ve already seen Alexandre Aja attempt a similar feat earlier this year, Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe, only to achieve mediocre results. It’s a tricky feat to shift tones smoothly and Satrapi does a fine job in doing so by distinguishing the idyllic world inside Jerry’s mind and the reality that exists outside of it. A few bumps are made along the way, but the film never becomes uneven to the point of losing its viewers.
In lesser hands, this could’ve unraveled horribly very fast.
Another nice touch provided by Satrapi is the look of the film. Between the overload of bright pink at Jerry’s workplace, the choreographed forklift driving and Jerry’s vintage bowling alley home, there’s a Pleasantville quaintness with a dash of Stephen King madness (a wonderfully twisted blend of Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography and Udo Kramer’s production design) that adds to the black humor of the story.
Most of the film’s humor lies in the bizarre conversations Jerry has with his pets (and later on with a very game Gemma Arterton), which deal with life, consequences, good and evil, and relationships. Michael R. Perry’s script is filled with biting dialogue between the two animals (acting as Jerry’s Devil and Angel on the shoulders), the easy to please dog that feels Jerry can do no wrong and the skeptical cat that feels he’s always right (Reynolds provides both of their voices) that works even when it’s just the dog and cat going at it without Jerry in the mix. Although a misstep is made midway by giving Jerry a brief tragic backstory that explains too much of why he evolved into who he is (the therapy sessions between Reynolds and Jacki Weaver serve as enough character insight), Perry’s writing is mostly spot-on.
Holding the story together is Ryan Reynolds in a terrific performance that helps keep the film’s tonal altering balanced. Reynolds has always been a talented actor stuck mostly in crap films, but once in a blue moon he’d get a rare opportunity to show what he’s capable of, such as the charming rom-com Definitely, Maybe and the thriller Buried. It’s a difficult role that requires him to be socially awkward (Anna Kendrick matches his awkwardness in a very likeable performance as his coworker who has feelings for him), vulnerable, charming and chilling. Reynolds handles each facet of the character just right, never completely going off the rails, so that even when his struggles with schizophrenia have him doing some heinous things we feel for the character.
Hey, if Reynolds playing a loopy serial killer keeps me from having to sit through another R.I.P.D., I’ll take it.
It’s safe to say a film this bizarre isn’t for everyone, but for those that are up for the sick and twisted ride, The Voices is a warped, gruesome, off-beat dark comedy that is solidly directed by Marjane Satrapi who ably balances both the comical and disturbing nature of this film while dressing it all up in an appealingly quirky style. Brought to life by an attractive cast, led by Ryan Reynolds in one of his best performances, this won’t go down as one of the best of the year, but it might be one of the most bizarre and will certainly have you thinking twice before you open up your fridge again.
I give The Voices a B+ (★★★).