‘The Voices’ will make talking to your pets feel so wrong

the-voices-2015The Voices

Written by Michael B. Perry
Directed by Marjane Satrapi
USA, 2015

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) spends his days working the nine-to-five shift at his new job at the Milton Bathtub Factory. Jerry is chipper to the point that he may turn some people off, but he never stops trying to make friends. Friends are something that Jerry could use because the only other conversation he has is with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Things are looking up though, Jerry has been tasked with planning the company picnic and he’s asked a girl (Gemma Arterton) out on a date. Jerry is so excited to share the news he rushes home to tell his pets about Fiona. Oddly enough, both Bosco and Mr. Whiskers start talking back.

No need to go back and re-read that last sentence, yes, Ryan Reynolds has pets who talk back to him. His dog, Bosco, is quite affable, however, his cat, Mr. Whiskers, would feel right at home curled in the lap of Blofeld. Unfortunately for everyone around him, it’s the advice of the evil cat that Jerry heeds more often than not. For all of Jerry’s pleasantries, he has some severe anger issues behind that warm smile. So much so that he has a court-appointed psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) to help him deal with his issues. So when Fiona stands him up that evening, it’s not a huge surprise that blood is shed.

Jerry wants to be normal desperately, but the deck was stacked against him very early on. His mother suffered from his same illness and his step-father was an abusive nightmare creating an utter hell to live through. Killing Fiona comes as the complete break from Jerry’s rose-tinted perception of reality. Going off of Mr. Whisker’s advice, Jerry stops taking his medication and embraces his newfound look on life. Life off his prescription is so much better; his apartment above the abandoned bowling alley is cleaner, work is better, and butterflies even follow Jerry along. The audience can’t trust anything they’re seeing of course, Jerry is one of the most unreliable narrators that cinema has offered.

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Like Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Norman Bates, Jerry does horrible things, yet we root for him to not get caught even as he liberates co-workers from their heads. Reynolds plays Jerry with an honest conviction, recreating the fractured mindset of mental illness  that is both simultaneously heart-breaking and terrifying. Many attempts have been made to turn Ryan Reynolds into a bonafide leading man, and while Reynolds is quite charming, he isn’t ever going to be that A-list lead. Reynolds excels as smarmy, quick-witted, or just plain weird, and The Voices is evidence why he is so much more interesting in these out-there roles.

Lionsgate has a history of bending genres with horror-comedy before with Cabin in the Woods, but Voices is going to be a harder sell than that Whedon film. Comedy can be meshed with horror, but usually the protagonist isn’t the slasher himself. The Voices excels at moments both campy fun and completely horrific, but the ratio of horror to comedy could use work. Previously mentioned scenes of Jerry’s upbringing are revealed through flashbacks placed throughout The Voices, and while they reveal a great deal of the protagonist’s many problems, they feel like they belong in a different film. Compartmentalized into two separate films, The Voices would be more successful as either straight horror fare, or campy, but it can’t serve as both.

Marjane Satrapi, who last directed Chicken with Plums, expands into much weirder territory with The Voices, showing off a talent for pitch-black comedy that no one would have expected her to mine so many laughs from such dark material. Satrapi has primarily dealt with Iranian stories and characters in the past with Persepolis, so this project sticks out as an odd career choice, but she embraces the unabashed weirdness of Michael B. Perry’s screenplay in full.

For as well as Satrapi balances the tightrope between camp and horror, The Voices doesn’t coalesce into something whole. Reynolds is a highlight though, so if you live in the select areas where the film is playing, it might be worth your while.

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