If Ed Gein and Henry Lee Lucas created a sitcom together, and David Lynch produced it, exactly what would that look like? Marjane Satrapi, the writer/director of the award-nominated PERSEPOLIS knows, and gives it to us in spades with THE VOICES, which is quite possibly one of the most disturbing first-person views of psychosis since David Cronenberg’s underrated SPIDER.
The entire movie is a vehicle for its star, Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re expecting him to reel in his target audience with his six-pack, sculpted pecs and insolent VAN WILDER-esque grin, be prepared for a considerable shock to your system. As normal, good-looking (but not GQ Magazine-ready), and somewhat reticent Jerry, he’s the ‘good guy’ who seems happier just going with the flow, but is almost pathetically desperate to please everyone and do well, whenever thrust into the spotlight.
Really, just an all-around ‘good guy,’ that Jerry. When he stays on his medication.
Which, for the most part, he doesn’t. And that’s where THE VOICES begin…literally.
Not to be remotely confused with any piddling reality shows that may KIND of bear a similar title, this one is all about drawing the audience into Jerry’s World; where pretty girls aren’t just pretty, but beauteous ‘angels from heaven’; where Jerry’s life of drudgery takes place in a bathtub-and-sink factory in the fictional town of Milton, (get it?), but everything is washed in beautifully soft pastels – even the uniforms. And he can talk to the animals.
Yeah, not a typo. Jerry talks to the animals, and as the title implies, they talk back. Said animals being his dog, Bosco and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Oh, and they don’t just talk. They are the yin-and-yang components of Jerry’s conscience; Bosco, the gregarious, kind-hearted soul who tries to reassure Jerry that he’s always being a “good boy”, while Mr. Whiskers is an amoral, devious, cynical sociopath, with a Scottish brogue to make his insults even more stinging – think Billy Connolly with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a machete in the other. After taking a good hit on a crack pipe. AND with a tail to complete the portrait.
Jerry’s real troubles begin (or so we are led to believe), when the girls “up in Accounting” at the factory start taking a shine to him, especially Brit transplant, the curvaceous Fiona (Gemma Arterton). It’s with their first ‘date’, that she begins to suspect that her sweetly goofy co-worker may be something more of a nutbar, and not in a GOOD way. She manages to stand him up for what he would have considered an official “DATE-date”, which sucks for her. “Unmedicated” Jerry just isn’t someone who takes to being intentionally snubbed kindly.
And it should be noted here: this is where Reynolds really excels in this film, by underplaying the matinee idol looks, and giving us just enough crazy that we know he’s out to lunch, and yet find ourselves empathizing with him in a way that doesn’t compute with the principled side of ourselves – the conscience screaming at us that we are siding with a cold-blooded killer. And this dichotomy will not be easily reconciled, either. Ryan’s performance, Satrapi’s sure-handed direction and the script by Michael R. Perry have ensured it. Like the aforementioned SPIDER, this is a deeply immersive experience that ratchets up the unease factor that will stick with you, long after the jaw-dropping end credits have rolled. Even the revelation of the source of Jerry’s mental dysfunction doesn’t alleviate the discomfort, and if anything, makes it worse.
Equally great in their performances are Anna Kendrick (UP IN THE AIR) and Ella Smith, as Lisa and Alison, respectively, two of Fiona’s co-workers who are also sweet on Jerry, much to their future dismay. On the opposite end of things is the wonderful Jacki Weaver (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and Fox’s GRACEPOINT), playing the ineffectual Dr. Warren, Jerry’s court-appointed shrink, who always looks like she’s pretty sure that Jerry is going to pull out a running chainsaw at any given moment, and that SHE should be prepared to run, too! (Smart cookie, this one.)
Unlike your typical Tim Burton-esque confectionary fantasy, or the droll storytelling of Wes Anderson, there is nothing that Satrapi provides here to soothe your rapidly fraying nerves. On the contrary, enough reminders are dropped in at strategic moments to remind you that because you are stuck with a completely unreliable hero/’narrator’, that what you are seeing is an absolute lie: we know that dogs and cats don’t talk, serial murder is not justifiable to put people out of what might be perceived as “their misery”, and the relatively pristine apartment-cum-abandoned bowling alley where Jerry lives is nothing more than an abbatoir, revealing that he is not only insane, but has been for a very long time, with this devastating reality hidden only by his happily, pharmaceutical-free, psychotic haze.
Two surprises that help catapult this into a great position to find ‘cult movie’ status with the audience that it’s meant for: how this film takes The O’Jays underrated classic, “Sing A Happy Song”, and hopefully gives it the same notoriety that Stealer’s Wheel’s one-hit wonder, “Stuck In The Middle With You” did with Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. And the ‘reveal’ of the voice actor(s) who provide the distinctive personalities of Bosco, the malevolent Mr. Whiskers and a doomed deer.
Here’s hoping that THE VOICES does find its mark with horror fans seeking out bracing originality, and that this marks a real turning point for Reynolds, breaking out of the ‘funny, pretty-boy’ casting straitjacket once and for all.
Check out the trailer: