“THE VOICES” (Sundance Movie Review)
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever laughed at? It’s doubtful that THE VOICES tops it sure, but Marjane Satrapi’s film is playing with a similar sentiment in its pop-color focus on a mentally imbalanced man (Ryan Reynolds) spurred to kill by his talking cat. Awash with pink factory machinery, bright yellow windbreakers, chatty severed heads and cheery disposition utterly twisting the grim, gruesome content out of whack, THE VOICES is surely not for everyone. Those with a predilection for a little prodding outside their comfort zone and a willingness to chuckle at some terrible things will likely find it a tasteless, special little exercise.
An exercise in what, exactly, is worth asking, as despite its hilarious horror show delights, THE VOICES seems little more than a stylish, unique way to tell a serial killer story. Surely that’s more than okay—it’s necessary—and Satrapi (PERSEPOLIS) has found a playful, wild way to do so. With her third film, it’s evident the Iranian-French filmmaker and author is looking to have some fun. At one of many knock-em-dead Sundance Q&A’s in which the director responded to audience queries and debate with confrontation and wit, she revealed she has only so many films in her (funnily facing her heavy smoking habit) and wants to try new things. Lucky for the audience, new things for Satrapi means something singular for us.
THE VOICES is led by a clean-shaven, socially incapable and absolutely outstanding Ryan Reynolds, who’s attempting to lead a normal life, despite the fact both his cat and dog explicitly speak with him. Part of a normal life means talking to girls and Jerry has his eye on the karaoke-ing English gal in accounting, Fiona (Gemma Arterton). A date, a rainstorm, a deer and an uncontrollable impulse later, Fiona is no longer in the land of the living, but enjoys quite a nice time as a decapitated head in Jerry’s fridge. What follows is an outlandish, silly and increasingly unsettling descent for Jerry and those around him, including Anna Kendrick as another object of affection and Jacki Weaver as his psychiatrist.
Satrapi, in twisting our familiarity with how to tell a story such as this, allows the comedy to not alleviate the madness, but make it even more grotesque. Eschewing the idea that medication makes one loopy, the brief moments Jerry returns to his prescription allows us to see his “real” world for what it is: a dank, deplorable existence. No wonder he’d rather live out his life with a feline conversationalist and colorful, sublime view of what’s surely his depressed hometown.
Those few minutes we spend outside of Jerry’s head color the film as significantly as the rainbow variety of prep jackets he dons. The true nature of his violence resides in the back of our heads as the absurd circumstance and ultra-squishy sound designed stabs play out before us. Satrapi’s intention is not to be a downer however, as we only get a taste of the grim, more truthful world. “I made a film, not a documentary,” the filmmaker responded to questions of her portrayal of mental illness. A little irresponsible perhaps, but sometimes the best horror is, and it’s clear in THE VOICES’ final moments it had no aspiration of serious inquiry. Just as Jerry chucks his pills after seeing the squalor, if the ultimate end is a bit too sobering, THE VOICES’ closing titles pick right back up with a musical number.
Correction: This review initially incorrectly named Jerry as “Freddy.”