The Voices (15) Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Marjane Satrapi, US/Germany, 2014, 101 mins. 

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver. 

In a contemporary film culture where young writers are advised to ensure their story fits into one of the accepted genres and most commercial movies are near clones of the last blockbuster, The Voices is a breath of fresh air. Is it a black comedy? A musical? A horror film? A psychological drama? It is all and none of these, a totally unclassifiable and refreshingly original genre buster.

At the centre of the story is charming but shy factory worker Jerry (Reynolds), who has a history of mental illness and who hears voices, most particularly the benevolent one of his dog Bosco and the sneering and hyper critical one of his cat, Mr Whiskers (both voiced by Reynolds himself). Jerry develops a crush on Fiona, “the sexy English girl in accounts” (Arterton). When however she stands him up for a date, he sort of accidentally kills her. And after that the voice of Mr Whiskers urges him to go on and kill more for the sheer pleasure of it.

We spend most of the film inside Jerry’s head, seeing and hearing through his eyes and ears. It is a strange world in which to reside – sometimes endearingly comic and darkly funny, at other times gruesomely horrific, as in a scene when he is chopping up Fiona’s body and storing the body parts in a stack of freezer boxes. And then unexpectedly it will burst into a musical number. The final song and dance sequence in particular is a cracker. At one point Jerry, who has stopped taking his anti- psychotic drugs, is persuaded by his voices to start taking them again and he and we see the ghastly reality in what had appeared to be his neat and tidy apartment – a sight bad enough to send him diving swiftly back into his colourful psychotic world.

Arterton, whose role at first appears to be ended by her character’s death, then reappears to great comic effect as Fiona’s talking head in Jerry’s fridge.  The top notch cast also includes Kendrick as Lisa, another of his co-workers, who fancies Jerry, Jacki Weaver as his sympathetic therapist and Stanley Townsend as the local sheriff.  It’s easy to see why they and Reynolds were attracted to the project. It must have been a joy to play something so original as opposed to the standard Hollywood genre movie.  Reynolds is very good – his charm and air of guileless innocence actually make this serial killer sympathetic, as this film takes us inside the head of its psychotic protagonist.  And Bosco and Mr Whiskers are a delight, giving Reynolds an opportunity to demonstrate his versatile voice work as well. And while the mixture of elements doesn’t always totally gel, the film is so refreshingly different with always something unpredictable round the corner that it can be easily forgiven.

Iranian director Marjane Satrapi’s previous work includes the equally original but very different animated film Persepolis, which told the story of a young woman growing up in Iran after the Shah was removed. Shot in Berlin, The Voices has a somewhat European feel to it and, if it is reminiscent of anyone in its original and imaginative use of the medium, it is the work of French film maker Michel Gondry. But Ms Strapi has a voice and creative imagination, which are hers alone.

Review by Carol Allen.