Director: Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jacki Weaver, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick
Premiering at Sundance back in 2014 before a limited release in 2015, The Voices could be considered one of Ryan Reynolds’ (Deadpool) odder film choices (I say this even though critically panned but good to watch when drunk R.I.P.D exists, and…well the less said about Green Lantern the better right?) to date. Playing off Reynolds’s quirk and charm, director and graphic novel author Marjane Satrapi’s (Persepolis) gave audiences that year a memorable black comedy that trends the line between delight and horror.
Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) works at a bathtub factory, is super-happy all the time, and is looking for love and connections with others. He has an unrequited crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton, Their Finest) in accounting and has long conversations about how best to woo her with his kindly dog Bosco and sadistic cat Mr. Whiskers whilst having no clue that shy Lisa (Anna Kendrick, A Simple Favor) has the hots for him. He’s also not taking his court-mandated medication. When given the chance to win Fiona’s heart things go spectacularly wrong, leading Jerry down a path his genuinely concerned psychiatrist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom) would prefer he didn’t end up on and with a lot of mess to clean up.
If it sounds a bit odd based on the synopsis that’s because that is exactly what The Voices is, it’s supposed to be. It’s a black comedy with horror elements which manages to be dark and kitschy in equal measure – and sometimes at the same time. It’s hard to compare it to any other film because it is very much its own thing, but there are shades of Psycho and a feeling of Giallo films to it which when mixed with the quirky soundtrack and mostly pastel styling’s makes for something that feels all at once retro and modern.
Much of The Voices is seen through Jerry’s eyes, which to him is a Wes Anderson-style pastelised world where anything is possible and everything is fine. As his delusions continue there are some other nice visual touches to make it clear to the audience that something is amiss such as perfect choreography of the people around him and animated shapes intruding on the real world concocted by his increasingly fragile mind. Seeing the world through his eyes feels pleasant for the most part, like a candy-coloured comfort blanket and you can understand why he’d want to remain there rather than in the real world with its darkness and grit. This pastel vision contrasts brilliantly with when reality seeps in to Jerry’s mind, where the colours shift dramatically to be dark and dingy, and at times some gorgeous Bava-esque lighting and colour choices in the most violent scenes which makes it feel reminiscent of a Giallo’s murder scenes whilst also being something of its own with heavy nods to Snow White and Cinderella in its darkest moments (you’ll get it when you see them).
When it comes to casting Ryan Reynolds is a fabulous choice to play the broken and unravelling Jerry, playing him with a Norman Bates quality that is affable, charming and thoroughly disconcerting. It feels like the role was meant for him. Honestly his smirk (best seen before this in Van Wilder) is a frightening thing here that makes you laugh at the dark actions he takes. He also makes it visibly clear that Jerry hates violence yet is so good at it – again very Bates-like, blending innocence with a darkness that makes his character strangely endearing for what is essentially the villain of the piece. By bringing a naive sweetness to Jerry’s struggles to interact appropriately and make friends, able to switch between pure positivity and lightness to being downright haunted by his past and present – it makes it hard not to like him, even in his worst moments. The expressions, mannerisms and demeanour Reynolds uses for his character here make him an intriguing watch, and by putting so much effort into his part whilst playing it entirely straight gives the character and the film itself a more weird and strange edge.
However this isn’t the only character Ryan Reynolds plays in The Voices, also voicing his pets Bosco and Mr. Whiskers who are respectively the angel and devil on his shoulders throughout the film. Much as with Jerry, he puts his full force into these characters, which are essentially different aspects of his broken personality, his paranoid and muddled inner voices given flesh in the form of his beloved pets. If you watch The Voices for nothing else, it should be for Mr. Whiskers’ lines – delivered in a strong Scottish accent, offensive and dark as hell and funnier than they have any right to be. Watching him rip himself to shreds as the voice of his own tabby cat is strange but very enjoyable, and often it’s those moments that steal the film.
To say much more about the film would be to spoil its weirdness, and one of the reasons The Voices works so well is because it’s hard to guess what will happen next. For example the conga scene early on in the film sums it up nicely; it’s retro, absurd and awkward with a darkness running through it below the surface if you look a little harder. It feels like Psycho on a sugar-high, saccharine but dark and makes you laugh at awful things the way any good black comedy should, including the soundtrack which you might not pay attention to the first time you watch this, but look out for it as the songs written for the film are so wonderfully unhinged in their lyrics yet classically retro pop in sound that they clash in the same way as everything else does in the film – much like Jerry’s own psyche struggling between his safe fantasy and the more unpleasant reality.
If you are a fan of black comedy, or simply fancy a strange film to watch that isn’t like anything you’ve watched before, The Voices is one to watch, an underrated and smart film that takes you on the anarchic rollercoaster that is Jerry’s mental state. It’s certainly not for everyone, in fact if you’re easily offended this may well not be for you, but for those who love to laugh at the darkness this is a film you’ll enjoy – I’ve watched this many times since release and it still manages to pull on the heart-strings and make me laugh out loud at its kitsch and meanness. A potential campy cult classic perhaps?
Overall Rating: 4/5
A horror-tinged black comedy for those who enjoy quirk and hidden depths to their film picks.