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Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: The Voices

So, The Voices...

What the everloving fuck was that?

The Voices is directed by Marjane Satrapi, writer/director/creator of Persepolis. Persepolis is, of course, the autobiographical graphic novel about Satrapi's youth in Iran during and shortly after the Islamic Revolution, which is now a mainstay in school libraries. In 2007, Satrapi teamed up with Vincent Peronnaud to make an animated adaptation of the film, and she's been focusing on directing ever since. The Voices, her newest film, is a bleak horror-comedy in which Ryan Reynolds is convinced to murder people by his talking pet cat. It's... something of a career turn.

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a mentally ill man who has recently reentered the workforce after spending a few years in an institution. As he goes off his meds and slips into a more welcoming fantasy world where Good and Evil are debated routinely by his pet dog and cat, Jerry is drawn to a lonely British accountant working at his company, Fiona (Gemma Arterton). The more worldly Fiona, however, doesn't have much interest in the troubled, offputting Jerry - but her coworker Lisa (Anna Kendrick) does. As women in the town begin to go missing and his relationship with Lisa progresses, Jerry's problems begin to seem less innocent, and his fantasy life begins to seem a whole lot more harmful.

Ryan Reynolds has always been a character actor trapped in the body of a leading man, excelling in films like Buried and the underappreciated Adventureland while he flounders as the smirking lead of films like Green Lantern. Here, he imbues his character with a wonderful innocence that is necessary to keep the movie from flying off the rails completely. It's rare to see a sympathetic portrait of a serial killer, but Reynolds makes you believe that this is a man who badly doesn't want to be hurting anyone, no matter how many people are dying around him. Reynolds may be an uneven performer, but he nails every second he's on screen here and grounds a difficult film with a surprising amount of empathy.

Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) both do fairly strong work. Arterton is a bit of a drag at first, before you figure out where her character is going, but after her death very early in the film, she has a blast as the obsequious, fast-talking voice of consolation for Jerry. Kendrick's character has a little more heft to it, as her character clearly sees (and misreads) the sensitive, wounded core of Jerry. She thinks she has found the perfect nice guy, a sweet, romantic innocent; her slowly-shattering naivete lends the film its most effective moments of genuine horror.

Satrapi's direction has a fantastic energy. This is her first English-language film and her first horror film (albeit more a comedy/horror) and her first film working from someone else's script, but she balanced a lot of difficult tones very well. With a lighter touch, I think The Voices would have lost the manic energy that makes it all go down so well, but Satrapi is surprisingly blunt - and effective. While I don't know that she finds a perfect balance between the dark comedy and the occasional flashes of bleak horror, Satrapi's live action world is informed by her past as a cartoonist, which helps maintain that balance and sell the often uncomfortable comedy.

The Voices shouldn't work, but, I'll be honest... it kind of does. Like the glorious mess of Jupiter Ascending and Blackhat - Is 2015 the Year of the Enjoyable Mess? - The Voices is oddly affecting for such a bizarre, dark film. The film's sympathetic view of Jerry and his dilemma (face a miserable reality and a go-nowhere life, or escape into fantasy but risk hurting others) is surprising, and, thanks to Reynolds, pretty affecting. As with Jerry himself, Satrapi gives her viewers two choices very early on: Let the horror brewing in the background swallow us whole, or give in to the fantasy. It's a canny decision that, to me, completely reframes the film - and makes it, as odd and viscerally repellant as it may be for many, essential viewing for anyone interested in the genre.

The Voices is out now in limited release, and is available on most popular VOD services. Written by Michael R. Perry and directed by Marjane Satrapi, The Voices stars Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton.
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