THE VOICES (2015)

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Director: Marjane Satrapi; Screenwriter: Michael R. Perry; Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith, ; Running time: 103 minutes; Certification: 15 }

“The voices made me do it.”.  Ah, the standard alibi for the psychotic serial killer looking to escape with an insanity plea.  Only the kind-hearted killer at the centre of Marjane Satrapi’s blackest of black comedies might just be telling the truth.  Reynolds plays Jerry, an awkward yet exceedingly polite factory worker who sees a therapist (Weaver), has a crush on his co-worker (Arterton) and takes pills to calm the voices in his head – the importance of which takes little time to become monstrously clear.  The difference from the last time Reynolds heard voices telling him to murder people is that in The Amityville Horror they definitely weren’t coming from the mouths of his cat and dog.  Playing the parts of shoulder devil and angel in that order (and both voiced by Reynolds himself), foul-mouthed Mr. Whiskers, as you might expect of a cat, relentlessly eggs him on to kill people while Bosco the dog offers him more soothing words: “Don’t worry, Jerry.  You’re a good boy.”.  Predictably, Jerry’s mind begins to unravel.

It’s a great set-up, and there’s much to like about The Voices.  For one, it’s something a bit peculiar and unique amidst a cinematic smorgasbord of more generic releases; Run All Night, Insurgent, The Gunman… none offer up anything like as interesting or enjoyable as what’s on display here, even if it doesn’t hit all the right notes.  For another, it’s impressively dark and grizzly.  While plenty of black humour is played out to varying degrees of depravity (a bit like Dr. Dolittle meets Re-Animator, it’s a film which features both talking animals and feeding cereal to severed heads) the trailer paints it as more of a down-the-line comedy than it actually is.  It’s funny (if not as funny as it perhaps thinks), it’s outlandish, it’s tongue-in-cheek, yet the underlying ideas are surprisingly serious; the end actually leaves a rather melancholic feeling in the room.  But the mixture of the two works; there’s enough surface to entertain while it touches (but doesn’t probe) on deeper issues.

The film also provides a platform for a terrific performance from Reynolds – probably the best of his career if it wasn’t for Buried.  It’s the little ticks and idiosyncrasies of an unwitting serial killer that he gets spot-on; the coy smiles, the shy glances, the awkward interactions, the childish glee after a date.  His ‘innocence’ leads us to genuinely root for him, as we’re supposed to; rather than see him caught and convicted, we want to see him get help and live happily ever after.  Mr. Whiskers is to blame, after all…

Yet, all that said, The Voices isn’t as brilliant as it could have been.  There’s so much good stuff riddled throughout but it tends to be dished out in sporadic, ill-disciplined bursts rather than controlled and consistently.  The film sort of teeters along a fine line; once in a while leans towards the side of brilliant, benchmark filmmaking that, like Sean Of The Dead and Tucker & Dale vs Evil, will surely yield sub-standard imitators in years to come; other times it appears to be a bit too appreciative of itself.  That’s to say, whenever it knows it’s being clever, it tends stops being quite so clever.  Like its psychotic main character, The Voices is a morbidly likeable film, but its reach just exceeds its grasp.

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