05th Mar2015

‘The Voices’ Review

by Stuart Wright

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver, Anna Kendrick, Ella Smith, Paul Chahidi, Stanley Townsend, Adi Shankar, Sam Spruell, Valerie Koch, Paul Brightwell, Alessa Kordeck | Written by Michael R. Perry | Directed by Marjane Satrapi

voices-reynolds

In the smallest of small towns, Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is the enthusiastic, socially awkward newbie in the packing division of a bathroom manufacture. Behind this innocent facade lurks a dormant, damaged mind waiting for a spark.

Work brings Jerry in contact with the office hottie – Fiona (Gemma Arterton). However, she’s evidently way out of his league. A point he discusses at home with his talking pets: the loyal dog Bosco and angry, scottish cat Mr Whiskers. This is a brilliant, underhand way to introduce Jerry’s illness. Reynolds plays it straight to get the most comic effect out of: Bosco, who always tries to convince Jerry he can be a good man; and Mr Whiskers who wants him to experience what it’s like to kill.

Visits to a sympathetic psychotherapist (Jacki Weaver) confirm Jerry has issues, but he lies about the severity of it for fear of being sent back to the asylum. Also in accounts is Lisa (Anna Kendrick). She is as keen on Jerry, as Jerry is on Fiona. Regardless, he persists with trying to woe Fiona. She agrees to go on a Friday night date, but slyly backs out at the last minute to go do karaoke in a local bar – which, given Kendrick’s presence, plays like an out take from Pitch Perfect (2012).

Bad weather and a busted car conspire to bring them together at the end of the evening when Jerry spots a rain soaked Fiona by the side of the road. On the journey back to hers, disaster strikes when he crashes into a deer. As the dying beast pleads with Jerry to kill him, Fiona sees his craziness at close quarters. Fearing for her own safety she runs off into the woods. Jerry pursues her, accidentally injures her – fatally – and puts her out of her misery like he previously did the deer. From here on in his charade of normality gets dislodged as the voices in his head increase with the rising body count.

Reynolds is excellent as the eager to please buffoon. However, it is his ability to mix that up with the more confused, mentally vulnerable state he has behind closed doors when it is just him, Bosco and Mr Whisker, or when he visits the psychotherapist. He also does the various voices of the talking animals. Bosco is endearing as the dog who will say exactly what Jerry needs to hear. Mr Whiskers is just an extension of the Mike Myer’s shouty scotsman characters with a bit more swearing and malice. It wears a bit thin towards the end of the film.

Michael R. Perry’s screenplay cleverly uses the psychotherapist as a way of delving into the fragility of Jerry’s mind. Plus, there’s a superb sequence where Jerry does take his meds. When he awakens they have kicked in and the grim, bloodstained reality of his world is laid bare for us all to see. It’s a shock, but key to the audience understanding there is our world and there is Jerry’s lucid view of world.

Last year’s Life After Beth springs to mind. Sold as a zombie film to genre fans, but in reality is a funny look at grief. On the surface The Voices is largely a dark horror comedy about a serial killer, but it is at its best when it is examining the mental illness haunting Jerry. All the best scenes are when Reynolds is with his therapist. Weaver’s character clearly believes in giving him a chance to get better, but is hopelessly under resourced to really make a difference. Whereas, we know he needs closer supervision. It’s one of the more serious points the film is able to clearly make – care in the community is an unseen, big gamble. How would you know who is clinically insane, who is normal and who is at risk from not taking their meds without signposting them via a register of mentally ill people in your locale.

The Voices is sometimes laugh out loud funny; and within the blink of an eye is gory and violent. However, this switcheroo can feel like it wanted its cake and eat it. For example, the bleaker story beats, like the backstory of his traumatised childhood, or when Lisa is fighting for her life, are seismic tonal shifts from a comic Mr Whiskers mocking Jerry in a shrill Scottish brogue. This lack of clear identity for the film will be as offputting for some as it will be alluring to others.

The Voices is released in the UK on March 20th.

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