The Good: Ryan Reynolds’s performance, Compelling exploration of mental, Incredibly well-directed
The Bad: All over the place with genres and styles that it is off-putting to an audience, Moments of gore are graphic and disturbing
The Basics: The Voices is one of the most difficult movies I’ve ever seen to get into . . . but it turns out to be an incredibly well-assembled, well-performed film that is well worth watching!
With this year’s Sundance Film Festival behind us, it seems like February, which is a historically bad month for movies (or a month of bad movies, depending on one’s perspective), is becoming a dumping ground for last year’s mediocre Sundance acquisitions. This weekend, The Voices comes out and when one has to ask “why would anyone hold back a Ryan Reynolds movie for an entire year?!” When one sees the troubling mix of romantic obsession and brutal stabbing that occurs in The Voices, the answer becomes pretty clear.
What is surprising is how the film, which initially seems like a deranged mix of Extract (reviewed here!) and The Cell (reviewed here!), is actually not bad; it’s just unclear who the intended audience is. Ryan Reynolds is actually impressive through most of The Voices for his performance and, despite a gruesome level of gore that comes from scenes involving dismembering a human body, the film is actually a very different performance for him.
Jerry is an unassuming, quiet, man who is working at Milton Fixtures & Faucet (where he is the new guy and as part of court-ordered psychotherapy, his psychiatrist checks in with his boss periodically. When the job throws its annual picnic for the employees, Jerry is volunteered to help organize the event and there he meets Fiona, from accounting. He has a great time at the picnic, supporting the idea Fiona has to do a conga line around the factory. But when Jerry returns home to his dog, Boscoe, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers, he hears them talking to him. Mr. Whiskers is very critical of him and puts him down, while Boscoe is supportive of him. Jerry’s psychiatrist worries that he might be hearing voices as part of his new medicine, but Jerry does not tell her about the voices he hears from his animals. When Jerry visits the Accounting Department, Lisa invites him to drinks with the women of accounting and Jerry misses all the clues that Lisa is interested in him as he fawns over Fiona.
When Fiona stands him up, Jerry finds her car, disables it, and makes sure to drive by to “rescue” her. But when she agrees to go out with him, feeling bad about standing him up, he accidentally hits a deer with the truck and has to put the suffering animal out of its misery. When Fiona runs off, Jerry chases her into the woods, tripping on her and accidentally stabbing her. He puts her out of her misery, too, and what follows is the tormented story of his animals giving him conflicting advice while the investigation for Fiona begins. Jerry starts a relationship with Lisa while the police search for a serial killer and Fiona’s disembodied head calls into question all Jerry knows and wants to believe about himself.
Given how The Voices has decent star power led by Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick, it seems like Lionsgate might have the potential for a sleeper hit, but the movie is far too esoteric to find a mainstream audience. In fact, The Voices seems tailor made for an audience that enjoyed both Bernie (reviewed here!) and Dexter (season one is reviewed here!). But, The Voices is not bad.
In fact, as The Voices weaves together Jerry’s current problems with his troubling backstory, involving a mother who is clearly mentally ill and a father who is emotionally abusive, it becomes clear why Reynolds would want to take on such a project. But what is unfortunately unclear in the Marjane Satrapi execution of Michael R. Perry’s script is whether Jerry is mentally disabled in addition to just mentally ill. Jerry is tormented by a past – which is presented mid-film as a pretty horrific incident in which his mother has him assist her in killing herself – that may well have triggered his schizophrenia, but things like the way Jerry moves in some scenes call into question whether he has capacity.
So, what makes The Voices worth watching? First, the blend of torment (which is like the Gollum/Smeagol moments of The Two Towers) and humor hits at just the right proportion. The performance by Ryan Reynolds truly is one of his best. Director Marjane Satrapi manages to include one of the most quirky-funny moments (Jerry standing outside his own bedroom door, politely asking for entrance) after one of the film’s most tense moments. Second, Anna Kendrick and Ryan Reynolds have surprisingly good on-screen chemistry. The scenes before Lisa discovers the true nature of Jerry have the two in a charming on-screen relationship.
Despite elements of The Voices that are painfully predictable, it has been a long time since I actually had no idea how the film would end. Jerry is a tormented character and The Voices, despite trying for entertaining, actually ends up playing as a remarkably good depiction of how mental illness and bad parenting can conspire to really screw a person up. At least as disturbing as the on-screen violence and gore are the vastly different perspectives between how Jerry sees his living environment and reality (the same locations as seen through the eyes of others).
While there are stretches where The Voices is anything but entertaining, the film is surprisingly engrossing and it is assembled in such a way that it keeps the audience guessing – even when they don’t know if they want to continue watching!
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Last Five Years
The Seventh Son
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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