Title: The Voices
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Major players: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton
Out of five? 2.5
Of late, the sight of Ryan Reynold’s name on a cast list hasn’t been a good sign. His roles haven’t been up to much although, in fairness, we’re talking big budget mainstream movies. He ventured back onto indie territory over the weekend at Sundance London in The Voices and looked decidedly more comfortable. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the film.
He plays Jerry, a factory worker in the small town of Milton. Socially awkward, he’s there as part of a rehabilitation programme and is making good progress until he develops a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), who works in the accounts department. A disastrous first date goes from bad to worse when their car collides with a deer. And she’s not the only girl to have a bad experience in Jerry’s company.
Jerry also regularly visits a box-ticking psychiatrist (Jackie Weaver), an easy device to explain why he’s so ill at ease with other people. He’s been released from a psychiatric hospital after extensive treatment following the death of his mother and, as long as he continues to take his medication, he’s fine. But his two housemates have far more influence over him than his shrink does – his dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr Whiskers. And, as soon as Jerry stops taking the tablets, they start speaking to him. Mr Whiskers is vicious, foul mouthed and, for some reason, Scottish, while Bosco is slobbering but kind.
The idea of dogs being kindly and cats being evil is hardly new. Even older is the idea of a good angel and bad angel: you can go back to medieval mystery plays for that, and probably even further. So director Marjane Satrapi really needs to bring something new to the table to give the film some life.
It starts out looking like a straightforward horror. It’s certainly gruesome enough, with Jerry murdering Fiona, butchering her body and storing her remains in neatly stacked sandwich boxes – with the exception of her head, which goes in the fridge. But, while it’s gory, it’s not especially scary. So is it a horror parody? There’s certainly nods in the direction of Psycho and The Shining in particular, Fiona’s head in the fridge starts talking to Jerry as well and there’s a good dollop of pathetic fallacy in the shape of a thunder storm. But it doesn’t take it further than that. Perhaps it’s a black comedy? Well, it’s black alright, but the laughs don’t exactly come thick and fast, so it doesn’t really cut it as a comedy of any hue.
So essentially we have a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Given that Satrapi’s previous film was the impressive and stylish animation, Persepolis, this is more than a little disappointing.
The murders continue. After the first one, the others are easier, the piles of sandwich boxes grow and so does the number of talking heads in the fridge. The one thing the film does rather neatly is to show us the apartment through Jerry’s un-medicated eyes, and the reality as seen by other people. For Jerry, his flat is immaculate, the sandwiches boxes are nowhere to be seen, the fridge is beautifully clean and the heads inside are immaculately made up. For outsiders, the fridge is smeared with blood, the flat is filthy and full of the plastic boxes and the heads are looking decidedly off-colour. But, strangely, there’s no flies, nor do the animals take any interest in the contents of the Tupperware.
As Jerry, Ryan Reynolds gets his character’s social awkwardness and desire to please spot on. He also does all the animal voices – which makes sense, as they’re in his head. Sadly, though, the film doesn’t make the most of its good cast. Anna Kendrick, the second murder victim, doesn’t have much more to do than be sweet and vulnerable and Jackie Weaver’s psychiatrist just goes through the motions.
The final credits are truly bizarre. The scene, supposedly, is heaven, with Jerry re-united with the three women he killed and his parents, but everybody is dressed in various combinations of bright pink (the factory’s corporate colour) and orange against a pure white background. And they’re all singing “Sing A Happy Song” in a very Eurovision way. Presumably it’s meant to be deeply ironic. Sadly, it’s like the rest of the film. All over the shop.
The Voices was screened at Sundance London. No UK release date has been confirmed.