“I know karate”
Don’t let the wide-eyed giddiness of Ryan Reynolds‘ Jerry Hickfang fool you. There’s darkness inside him that simply hasn’t yet been coaxed out into the open. It may take a little while to see it in full force so you can truly comprehend what is going on with the Edward Scissorhands-esque bright colors and smiling faces version of warped small town suburbia, but it will be an eye-opening revelation when it does. What this means too is that you need to try and not let Reynolds’ broad performance make you wonder if you’re watching a made-for-TV soap opera filmed before the actor found his trademarked sarcastic edge. His choice is very specifically catered to the character and his success in making you second-guess the quality of the film helps facilitate the underlying metaphor.
Directed by Persepolis writer and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, The Voices has a unique comic voice that fits her oeuvre. I say this because it is the first movie of hers that she did not write. That honor goes to Michael R. Perry—he a veteran of many dark, supernatural themed television programs providing a relevant backstory to the pitch-black horror comedy feature he’s crafted. What these two have brought to life isn’t for everyone and reminded me most of Death to Smoochy straight through to the end credits song and dance number. There’s a similar cartoonish quality to the laughter shrouded by a serious psychological break causing violent tendencies to usurp any personal ideas of morality. Just because Jerry wants to be good doesn’t always mean he is.
If his dog Bosco had anything to say about it—and he does—Jerry would be one with his inner tranquility. The angel on his shoulder to Mr. Whiskers the cat’s demon, Jerry’s canine friend is his BFF. Bosco comforts him, greets him with excitement, and constantly lobs platitudes to make his master’s heart thaw into a belief that love and happiness are viable adjectives to describe his future. Mr. Whiskers plays the naysayer, profanely undermining all of the dog’s work to plant the seed of evil. Like any form of conscience versus pleasure, Jerry’s four-legged roommates are two halves of his psyche engaged in a psychological tug-of-war that can only end in the stifling of his identity. They ensure he’s never alone, though, so he must listen less they go away.
Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are but two of Jerry’s troublesome ticks, the complete scope of which he hides from psychiatrist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver) in order to live his life with the rosy colored glasses he always dreamed. He loves his job at the local porcelain factory, packaging and shipping tubs and toilets all day with a group of coworkers he enjoys being around—even if they don’t necessarily share the feeling. Jerry is the weirdly positive new guy, awkward with a capital “A” and random in his segues when his mind is honed in. Thusly, his adoration for the British temp in sales (Gemma Arterton‘s Fiona) turns him blind to the obvious affections of Lisa (Anna Kendrick)—a decision that will play out via disappointment, hope, and bloody violence.
Satrapi masterfully moves from fantasy to reality, deftly leaving visual and tonal clues to differentiate the two when hiding the duplicity at hand. I don’t want to ruin things, but I feel compelled to say the initial veil lift took me by surprise in a way that made me want to rewind and start from the beginning, aware of the knowledge I just learned. It adds a necessary depth to what may seem a shallow work with little redeeming value at first appearance. Her success at making the funny parts funny and the horror bits gruesome, however, also leaves the finished hybrid in a purgatory of sorts. I both liked her ability to embrace its off-the-beaten-path machinations and felt disappointed it loses sure footing in the transitions.
That’s not to say she and Perry have failed—I believe their vision has been exactingly transferred. It’s polar opposite halves are simply inherently abrasive. This is excusable considering Jerry battles a war in his mind at the same time the film fights against itself and I think everything would probably even out after multiple viewings. Perhaps it just needed to be more overtly funny in its language above circumstances a la Death to Smoochy so the darkness never takes full control. Moments when the violence gets heavy and Jerry’s backstory sadder and more depressing beg us to feel for him as a broken soul needing to mend. Because these instances are so severe and because Reynolds earns our sympathy, flipping back to comedy becomes a hard task to accomplish naturally.
So don’t be fooled by the opening tone and drown in its manufactured façade as there’s a crucial reason for its sheen. Treat The Voices as a serious film despite it and be carried down its disturbing spiral to a permanent hell Jerry is unable to baldly see. The characters are all overt stereotypes with bubbly personas or conniving motives until they are laid bare of preconceptions and self-erected masks at the hands of a gentle man made to do bad things. There’s a wonderful case study for schizophrenia buried beneath the stylistic subterfuge, one the comedy draws us in to uncover and give us pause. Appearances are deceiving as every choice made my filmmaker and actor alike is a calculated one with profound meaning to an endgame beyond entertainment.
 Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) in THE VOICES.
 Ryan Reynolds stars as “Jerry” in THE VOICES.
 Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) in THE VOICES.