The Voices

The Voices
  • Country of production: USA / Germany
  • Year: 2014
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Marjane Satrapi
  • Running time: 103 minutes

The Voices is a laugh-out-loud dark comedy, psychological thriller and horror movie that almost defies description, but has been called ‘a demented delight’ (Sara Stewart, The New York Post). Directed by MARJANE SATRAPI (whose Persepolis won the Cannes Jury Prize and was Oscar-nominated), it stars RYAN REYNOLDS as the likable anti-hero with a seriously messed-up alter ego, and GEMMA ARTERTON and ANNA KENDRICK as his love-interest victims. Like a hilarious cross between Hairspray and Psycho, The Voices is a ‘loopy, ghastly, funny, morbid and unforgettable 100 minutes’ (Eric D Snider, and ‘an instant cult classic’ (David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews).

Jerry Hickfang (Reynolds) is socially awkward and slightly over-enthusiastic, especially when he meets sexy Fiona (Arterton) from the accounts department at the bathtub factory where he works. He is under the supervision of court-appointed psychiatrist Dr Warren, played by JACKI WEAVER (who was Oscar-nominated for Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook), and everything would be fine if only he would keep taking his pills.

But events take an unfortunate turn after Fiona stands Jerry up on a date. His life quickly spirals out of control under the evil and benign influences, respectively, of his personal advisers Mr Whiskers and Bosco, who also happen to be his pet cat and dog.

One of Fiona’s colleagues in accounts, sweet and kooky Lisa (Kendrick, an Oscar nominee for Up in the Air), has a crush on Jerry. He develops feelings for her too and for the briefest of moments it looks like things might turn out OK. But in this film nothing is what it seems. Jerry’s world without medication is one of pastel colours, butterflies, actual talking heads and voices urging him to take actions that have increasingly awful consequences. When we see Jerry’s apartment through Lisa’s eyes, the grim reality is genuinely shocking.

Ryan Reynolds really does have voices in his head. He convinced Satrapi he should voice his character’s pets by sending her recordings tailored for each of the two animals, apparently modelling the malevolent Mr Whiskers’ rich Scottish brogue on a long-standing friend.


The Voices


In reconfiguring serial-killer thrills as camp-tastic fun, Satrapi offers a refreshing take on small-town psychopathy, full of postmodern ironies that subsequently replay in the mind with deeper ambiguity. After all, if Jerry can create a Scottish accent for his cat and an English accent for Fiona's decapitated head, who knows where his imagination ends?

(Anton bitel, Sight & Sound)

The Voices is both a film about a schizophrenic serial killer and an artless tale of young love; an implausible mix that is made to work by the deft application of visual style and wry humour. It’s not only Satrapi’s assured direction that enables her to blend the disparate genres of horror, romance, thriller, comedy and musical, but also how well her lead actors acquit themselves.

Playing the hapless Jerry, Ryan Reynolds (The Nines, Buried, Green Lantern) anchors this ambitious conceit. Reynolds ‘uses his looks as a kind of mask, a blandly appealing ruggedness that at first suggests stupidity but eventually indicates a man trying to hide his torment behind a charming face... Jerry never quite recognises how demented he is, and so Reynolds plays him as if he really was just a decent, slightly awkward ordinary guy – albeit one who finds that killing gets easier the more you do it’ (Tim Grierson, Screen International).

His co-worker Lisa is the only person who sees him as he sees himself: a nice guy who’s trying his best. Anna Kendrick’s performance is ‘especially likable... her scenes with Reynolds have an understated loveliness that make one wish that Jerry could somehow find his way to a happy ending. To get an audience to feel that way about a murdering psychopath is no small achievement’ (Tim Grierson, Screen International).

Flesh and blood comic

In showing us Jerry’s take on things, Satrapi provides a window on to her protagonist’s predicament and viewers see first-hand the dizzying effect of his disturbed mental state. His heightened reality encompasses fluorescent-pink work overalls and forklift trucks; conga lines in office corridors and a Chinese Elvis doing kung-fu.

The effect is underpinned by smart art direction, and the film’s carefully composed frames and splashes of surreal colour are suggestive of a comic book. Director Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novelist best known for her animated coming-of-age memoir Persepolis (2007) and stylised live action-cartoon meld Chicken With Plums (2011). Both were tales of outsiders and whimsical dreamers who escaped into fantasy, not entirely unlike The Voices.

Echoes of his mind

Like Jerry with and without medication, the film alternates between contrasting visual styles; the vivid hues of his internal world contrast starkly with the grisly reality of his misdemeanours. This creates an unsettling effect that is counterpointed by pitch-black humour, Satrapi ‘moving seamlessly between the seriously gory and the gleefully absurd’ (Sara Stewart, The New York Post). At one point the score cheekily incorporates a guitar line from Harry Nilsson’s song Everybody’s Talkin’.

Flashbacks to childhood horrors in the wake of Jerry and his mother’s emigration from Berlin to the US help to explain why he is so damaged and destructive. But it is not until late on that Jerry receives absolution of a sort, when his psychiatrist urgently explains to him that just because he has thoughts, he doesn’t have to act on them. “Jerry,” she tells him, “you’re not alone.” To Jerry, this comes as a revelation. “Thank you, Doc,” he says. “I feel like I’ve had 10 years of therapy in 10 seconds!”

Psycho killer song

It’s a poignant coda to a rollercoaster emotional journey, but the film still has one flourish in store. A Bollywood-style all-singing, all-dancing closing sequence (“Sing a happy song,” the cast gleefully chorus) raises the question: are we in heaven, or are we still in Jerry’s head? ‘A prisoner of his own mind, Jerry, along with his mother, may never even have left Berlin; but he and Satrapi have elaborated a hilariously artificial, improbably upbeat means of escape and even of redemption – in a film that transcends taste and cross-dresses genre’ (Anton Bitel, Sight & Sound).


The Voices


The Voices

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