The Voices (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A whimsical comedy about madness and murder

thevoices01Alternating between whimsical comedy and disturbing horror, “The Voices” is an uneven but amusing black comedy about one very nice guy who simply cannot himself as driven by his murderous compulsion. Even when he is well aware of how problematic his deranged state of mind is, he finds himself helplessly falling further into that dark pit of madness like Norman Bates, and he clings more desperately onto his delusion to get out of his misery. This does not sound like a good comedy material, but the movie makes several good moments of dark laughs out of the absurd situation of its pathetic troubled hero, while never overlooking his grim reality of madness and murder.

On the surface, Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) seems to be a plain normal guy who merely looks a little too pleasant and optimistic. Working at a bathtub factory located in a small town named Milton, he is regarded well as a diligent model employee by his boss, but he is not particular close to others at his workplace. His daily life outside the factory is usually confined in his small residence placed above abandoned bowling alleys, and the only friends in his lonely life are his dog named Bosco and his cat named Mr. Whiskers, with whom he talks whenever he comes back to his home.

Now you can see that he has a very serious mental problem. Since being released from a mental institution not so long time ago, Jerry has been trying to adjust himself to the world outside with the help of Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver), but he does not follow his psychiatrist’s advice well recently. He does not take his prescribed drugs at times just because he can feel fine and happy without them, despite the voices he frequently hears from Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Both Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are voiced by Reynolds himself, and that is certainly an appropriate choice considering the schizophrenic nature of his character.

thevoices03On one day, Jerry comes across one of the employees from the accounting department of his factory. While she is not particularly attracted to Jerry, Fiona (Gemma Arterton) lets him more interested in her, and that leads to a miserable moment for Jerry when she casually stands him up and then has a fun karaoke evening with her colleagues. When her car is broken later during that night, she comes across Jerry by chance. Jerry is not angry about her, so they decide to have some time together, but, alas, their night ends not very well for both of them.

Feeling guilty and confused, Jerry tries to take care of the mess he inadvertently caused, and it is both funny and cringe-inducing to watch him doing unspeakable things to cover up his big trouble. Although Bosco functions as his calm voice of reason, Jerry cannot help but be urged by the evil, snarky voice of Mr. Whiskers, and there is a chilling moment indirectly showing Jerry’s gruesome handling of Fiona’s dead body. From his warped view, everything looks neat and composed with bright light and colors, but then we are slapped with a striking moment which presents to us the full horror of the dreadful reality Jerry tries to avoid at all cost.

Meanwhile, Jerry finds another chance of romance from Lisa (Anna Kendrick), one of Fiona’s co-workers. Something clicks between them as they spend more time with each other, and Jerry even shows her his old family house which still vividly reminds him of his deeply traumatic childhood past. They spend one night together at her home, and they are willing to go further in their relationship, but there is still his horrible secret along with Fiona’s head, who will not mind being with more talking heads in Jerry’s cozy refrigerator.

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The story becomes darker and darker during its latter part, but the director Marjane Satrapi, who previously co-directed Oscar-nominated film “Persepolis” (2007) and then directed her first live action film “Chicken with Plum” (2011), maintains the quirky tone of her film while throwing more bizarre or whimsical moments which are sometime too offbeat for some of you. As the screenplay by Michael R. Perry eventually arrives at the expected point around its finale, the movie begins to lose its fragile balance between comedy and horror, and its epilogue musical sequence feels rather awkward although the main cast members surely have a little fun together during this intentionally silly sequence.

As the insane comic center of the film, Ryan Reynolds gives his best performance since his memorable one-man show in “Buried” (2010). It is always nice to see an actor trying something different, and Reynolds, who has been often criticized for his bland screen presence, shows here the other side of his acting talent we have never seen before. While becoming more monstrous as struggling with his mental illness and its bloody consequences, Jerry still tries to be a nice and sensible guy as looking away from his guilt, and Reynolds did a wonderful job of balancing his likable but homicidal character between absurdity and pathos. He also has lots of fun with providing the voices for talking animals in his character’s hallucinations, and his wry voice performances are another enjoyable factor in the film.

The supporting characters in the movie are relatively underdeveloped in comprison, but that flaw is mostly compensated by good actors who can imbue their characters with personalities. Gemma Arterton is sassy and amusing even when we are horrified about what happened to her character, Anna Kendrick is lively and charming as a girl we come to worry a lot about, and Jacki Weaver has her own moment later in the film although the movie could have utilized this colorful Australian actress more.

Compared to Satrapi’s previous works, “The Voices” is a less successful work. There were several points where I felt distracted by its incoherent mix of laugh and violence, but the overall result is more amusing than expected in spite of its dark, unsavory subject. It is probably not for everyone, but it comes with distinctive style and humor while supported well by its engaging lead performance to watch, and you may appreciate how it makes its unpleasant story work to some degrees.

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