Movie Psychopaths are a dime a dozen, and have often been the focus of interesting character studies. It is intriguing to see how certain creative minds deal with the personalities of those characters with a penchant for murder. The point of perspective is often what interests many film-makers, as they aim to test an audience with a close and personal relationship with a psychopath, testing how willing an audience is to align themselves with an individual who has a nasty habit of killing people. Marjane Satrapi, of Persepolis fame, is the latest to bring such a character to the screen, and it is in her play with perceptions that gives The Voices a unique edge, as well as providing a lot of sharp wit and darkly humorous beats to boot.
Jimmy Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is a factory worker in the small-town of Milton. Jimmy is somewhat mentally unhinged, fresh out of therapy and having regular meetings with his psychiatrist (Jackie Weaver). Refusing to take his meds due to how they make him face a reality he does not wish to face, Jimmy spirals down a rabbit hole of madness, as his pets begin conversing with him (also voiced by Reynolds), his dog aiming to steer him clear on a path of normalcy, while his cat attempts to convince him to succumb to the darkness that lies inside of him. What path will Jimmy choose?
Satrapi clearly relishes in a project which offers itself to a distinct and striking visual palette. Sharp cinematography clearly defines the two separate worlds that Jimmy inhabits, his negligent bright wonderland, and the dark grim reality always threatening to bring his allusion crashing down. Many scenes benefit from such an approach, namely the first murder we witness, and the modulation from the final moments of the film into a delirious and quite brilliant final credits sequence. Satrapi provides the film with a visual richness that is a joy to watch and helps the film carry and sustain a certain shade of black humour that is both unsettling and wonderfully realised.
Further strength in regards to the tonality of the film comes from the lead performance of the once and future Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds. Clearly in synch with Satrapi’s aims of an off-kilter leading man, capable of being quite a sympathetic character, yet at the same time a very dangerous one, Reynolds revels in the chance to portray a character with such a bizarre personality. Reynolds is often at his best in smaller indie-affair, you need only look at the likes of Buried or the underrated Paper-Man to realise his depth as a performer outside of the repeated and tired Van Wilder-schtick. Not only does he create a memorable psychopath in Jerry, he also proves very talented at voice work, lending his vocals to Jimmy’s house pets. His work helps to convey the fractures of Jimmy’s mind as well as continue to provide another level of jet black humour to the proceedings. The supporting cast offer enough to be sympathetic characters, with two dependable performances from Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as the object of Jimmy’s affections, and also ill-fated victims.
While the film remains a visual treat throughout, the actual development of the narrative itself is less successful. There is the inclination that this idea perhaps would have worked better as a short movie, focussing on Jimmy’s relationship with his pets, throw in a kill for good measure and then wrap things up. The Voices as it stands is a film which at times seems to be struggling to achieve a feature length run-time. The final third in particular loses its way as it tries to make use of the supporting cast in ways that don’t seem to offer a great deal for the character of Jimmy, delving too much into a back-story that we simply do not need. This in no means undermines the strength of the opening two thirds, but it becomes very clear that the film becomes quite lost as it approaches the finish line.
The Voices represents one of the more pleasant surprises of the year so far for me. It is very odd with its innate sense of silliness, coupled with a sinister undertone which remains prevalent from start to finish. It is destined to fall into obscurity and cultdom, as I imagine was very much the intention, but none the less it remains a film that I will continue to recommend across the year, simply due to its many inspired moments of gruesome creativity and witty dialogue.
4/5- A striking and pleasingly odd concoction, with great inspired moments of darkly tinged comedy, led by a wonderfully deranged turn from Reynolds.