If there is a positive to find in The Voices, it’s that it clearly takes risks. It’s problem is that almost none of those risks really pay off. It’s premise, in that its told from the warped perspective of a delusional murderer who talks to his pets and the severed head of his victim, is definitely original and has the ingredients of a wicked black comedy. While it clearly wants to go that angle, based on its general demeanor (there are multiple song-and-dance scenes), the problem is that its never funny. Most of the jokes boil down to the-cat-said-a-curse, which wears thin. The moment where it breaks the perspective and shows the true horror are effectively unsettling, but given that the more colourful portions aren’t very entertaining, the whole movie just ends up feeling gross. This is a deeply unpleasant viewing experience, and not one with anything really to say, be it about mental health or isolationism. The Voices feels like it was built off a central premise, with no ideas about how to build off of it or give it a real ending. Instead, it makes its point early and then plods along until the end mercifully comes.
In some isolated sparks, viewed in retrospect, The Voices works. Reynolds does indeed imbue Jerry with some sympathetic qualities, which is the only thing keeping The Voices afloat. A later scene with him and Anna Kendrick when Jerry’s secret inevitably breaks is played for suspense, but what really sticks out is its deep sadness even if it isn’t fully earned. Jerry would love to not be Jerry, and as one potential future is ripped from him, the weight of that self-pity and despair is brought to the fore by Kendrick and Reynolds. It’s a shame that the movie’s desperation for irreverence keeps it from finding a groove more consistently.
TWO DAYS LATER EDIT: As much as my initial visceral response to The Voices was negative, certain images and moments from it have stuck with me. I think it fails dreadfully as a black comedy, but succeeds partially as a character study and as a distinct work. So, while I still have many problems with the movie, I felt the need to temper my reaction a bit, and admit that it’s not entirely without merit. It’s an unpleasant, pessimistic experience, but one which at least partially succeeds in conveying its themes through its conflicted and troubled central character. So I’m switching that D- to a D+, and will try to let movies stew in my mind a bit more from now on.
The Voices (2015)
Dir. Marjane Satrapi
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, and Gemma Arterton
Rotten Tomatoes (72%)