THE VOICES (2014)

Getting straight to the point

Thoroughly bizarre from start to finish, The Voices is the brainchild of screenwriter Michael R. Perry (whom I’ll always respect for writing Millennium episode “The Mikado”), and Iranian-born French director Marjane Satrapi, who wrote the autobiographical comic-book Persepolis (which she later co-adapted into an Oscar-nominated animation). It stars Ryan Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang; a cheerful oddball working on a bathtub factory floor, who privately suffers from hallucinations—specifically, that his dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers both speak to him, and constantly belittle and manipulate his life. Like I said, bizarre.

The Voices is destined to gain a cult following, although I wish it had been funnier and the story far twistier so I could recommend it wholeheartedly. As it stands, this psychological black comedy certainly has nutty appeal—but largely gets by on the spirited, nuanced performance of Reynolds (an underrated actor, prone to starring in mainstream flops), and Satrapi’s deliciously off-kilter world-building. The movie was shot in Germany, dressed to resemble small-town America, which only adds to the screwy vibe that bleeds from the screen. Little touches like the Milton factory overalls being coloured hot pink, or the lurid use of neon red and blues, helps put The Voices into a peculiar and engrossing headspace.

The plot isn’t very complex, being more of a framework to hang zany ideas and scenarios. Essentially, our antihero Jerry falls in love with perky English office worker Fiona (Gemma Arterton), after being tasked to organise the company barbecue; but while his intentions towards her are sweet and romantic, his fragile mind’s in turmoil and fate itself seems to nudge him down a sinister path. Half-merciful knifings in forests, body parts stacked into Tupperware containers, and talking heads in refrigerators duly follow.

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I was the office hottie… now I’m a severed head in a fridge. Sucks to be me, Jerry.

Jerry’s aware he has a problem, so he sees counsellor Dr Warren (Jacki Weaver) on a regular basis; the only person aware of his deranged mother’s tragic demise, which begat his own mental problems as a boy. Psychological issues that can be regulated by the drugs he lies about taking. Indeed, one of the film’s best moments is when Jerry decides to resume his medication after a particularly bad experience and, consequently, we share in his astonishing discovery that his orderly apartment is just an illusion. He actually lives in a clichéd serial killer’s dwelling of sparse furniture, cluttered tabletops, stained carpets, stacks of junk food, and blood-spattered kitchen surfaces. A reality where his pets are silent onlookers to their owner’s pitiful, lonely, unstable existence. So it’s easy to understand why Jerry prefers to function without drugs and embrace the comforting hallucinations his natural state of mind brings.

The premise of this movie is macabre fun and the performances help distract you from a lack of surprises, but they’re not enough to elevate The Voices above the level of a diverting curio. And that’s fine, because you get the sense that’s all this film ever aimed to be. It was a chance for Reynolds to flex some acting muscles with a performance better than it needed to be, and for Satrapi to further her move into live-action filmmaking. And she has a keen eye for composition, which reminded me of Wes Anderson at times. There are enough grisly guffaws to be worth anyone’s time, although the story could’ve been less predictable and with more outright hilarious moments (a lot of the comedy’s heavy-lifting is done by Reynolds himself, voicing a dimwitted dog and vulgar Scottish cat). By the time the misjudged final scene arrives, where much of the cast perform a song-and-dance routine in a white void… well, I was of the opinion The Voices missed a chance to become a transcendent horror-comedy, but settled for memorably odd.

But while its misses equal its hits, there’s undeniable fun in watching the madness unspool, and good-looking Reynolds never makes you question the ridiculousness of someone with Jerry’s bone structure being stood up in a sushi bar.

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Special Features:

  • Interviews – ‘talking head’ interviews with the cast on set, who outline why they were drawn to such a strange film. (21-mins)
  • Scare Prank – an amusing piece of tie-in marketing for the film, where a refrigerator containing a talking decapitated head was placed in the middle of a UK shopping centre for unsuspecting members of the public to open. (4-mins)
  • Deleted Scenes – self explanatory. (11-mins)
  • Extended Scenes – likewise. (4-mins)
  • Pet Voice Recording – footage of Ryan Reynolds taking off-camera direction, while reading his lines as Mr Whiskers and Bosco into a microphone.
  • Behind the Scenes – set footage of the film being made. (10-mins)
  • Animatics – animated storyboards. (21-mins)

Cast & Crew

director: Marjane Satrapi

writer: Michael R. Perry

starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendric, Jacki Weaver, Sam Spruell, Adi Shankar & Ella Smith.

Arrow Films / Cert: 15 / 103 mins. / Picture: 1080P, 2.35:1 ratio / Audio: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), English HoH

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