Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Tonally scattershot and thematically repulsive, The Voices is a film about a wacko factory worker named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) who has lengthy conversations with his pets before indulging in murderous impulses. It's also a film in which serious issues like mental illness and violence against women are handled with a tongue-in-cheek glibness that's supposed to be humorous, but instead plays as a dangerously misguided attempt at what's commonly known these days as "horror comedy." The director, Marjane Satrapi, best known for the wonderful autobiographical animated film Persepolis, chooses to attack Michael R. Perry's irritatingly cloy screenplay with a flurry of stylized artiness that only enhances the film's basic artificiality. In a way, The Voices brings to mind American Psycho by way of Amelie filtered through the sensibilities of David Lynch, and that's not a compliment.
Jerry is a boyish, All-American stiff working at a bathtub factory in some geographically undefined town called Milton; living inside an apartment above a decaying bowling alley while having back-and-forth arguments with his cat and dog, named Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, respectively. It's obvious that Jerry is a nutcase, evidenced not only by his imaginary conversations and mannered facial expressions, but also through his frequent visits to a psychotherapist (Jacki Weaver). His particular fixation on a flighty British accountant (Gemma Arterton) provides the film's first descent into violent madness, but by the time we see Jerry talking to the dismembered head of his victim inside his refrigerator, it's clear that Satrapi has lost the thread. What the film ultimately has to say about mental illness and violence against women is sadly nonexistent since the brightly colored sets, whimsical music cues, and bursts of graphic violence remain untethered from any kind of meaningful perspective. Truthfully, defenders of the film will claim that the tonal schizophrenia; the way the film refuses to give us a proper context for it's disturbing premise, is in fact the point, but that also feels like a copout. The notion of sympathizing with a serial killer by depicting his point of view through the delusions of his unstable mind with flashes of black comedy could be fascinating, but that takes a seasoned filmmaker who understands tone and Satrapi, for all her lavish visual touches, simply isn't resourceful enough to make the disparate ideas come together.
Another problem with The Voices is Reynolds' performance as Jerry. The idea of playing a mentally disturbed killer as a socially awkward dork is fine, but Reynolds further complicates things by reacting in nearly every scene with heightened mannerisms and a rubbery smile that would even make Jim Carrey cringe. This wouldn't be so fatal if the film didn't also want us to find layers of pathos beneath the goofy exterior; but clearly, we are suppose to care about Jerry, seen most clearly in badly overwrought flashback sequences involving an abusive father and mentally ill mother. Reynolds' one-note performance is most glaringly out of place in scenes opposite Anna Kendrick, whose shrinking violet office worker is inextricably drawn to Jerry's creepy cheerfulness. For her part, Kendrick seems to be in a completely different movie; one with undertones of nuance and sadness, but her acting style clashes so strongly with Reynolds that whatever semi-tolerable moments the two share together have no impact. The film, too, has zero dramatic stakes and absolutely no emotional heft, which makes sense given the "horror comedy" genre tag, but what's most disappointing here is that Satrapi has a genuine eye for off-beat imagery.
The Voices isn't remotely funny enough to work as a dark comedy and it's central premise is so distasteful that the whole thing devolves into a kind of cult-ready curio that many will proclaim as boldly subversive, but instead doesn't have the slightest idea of what it wants to be. The film's basic conceit; that Jerry sees the world as a magical place while off his medication whereas the reality is much more troubling and nasty, isn't exactly novel either. Furthermore, the movie's ironic tone (compounded by a bafflingly kitschy end credits musical dance number) is distancing rather than illuminating, cementing the fact that Satrapi and more importantly, writer Michael R. Perry, are following the cinematic kitchen sink aesthetic of "anything goes." Ultimately, Jerry's insufferable cheerfulness and horrific killing streak is aimed squarely at the audience's intelligence.