Ryan Reynolds has flirted with blockbuster success in the past, but has never quite received the affection he has merited. Costly misfires like R.I.P.D. and Green Lantern have left him as something of a nearly man in the realm of enormo-budget outings.
Yet his obvious enthusiasm seems infinitely better suited to more modest or subversive works. Low-budget thriller Buried showcased Reynolds’ ability to command the screen in dramatic circumstances, and now Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices lets him off the leash even more.
Jerry (Reynolds) is the new recruit at a bathroom factory. Wearing a pink jumpsuit and affable to the point of saccharine, he seems like a harmless, awkward schmoe. We soon learn that he is gradually being introduced back to the community after years in an institution. The details of his past are sketchy, but when he returns to his modest apartment above an abandoned bowling alley, we get a pretty firm insight into his state of mind. He talks to his pets, Bosco and Mr Whiskers – and they talk back.
The furry equivalent of having an angel and a devil on his shoulders, Jerry’s pets offer drastically opposing guidance to their unstable owner. His mellow hound tells him to be a “good boy” and stay on the straight and narrow; the cat tells him to solve his problems by butchering them. One disastrous attempt to woo a workplace crush later, Jerry is forced to consider the advice of his four-legged friends very seriously. And stock up on Tupperware.
Tonally, The Voices is messier than a crime scene. The oddball comedy leanings of the first twenty minutes crash head first into a blood bank – and boy, when the killings commence, the red stuff flows like there’s no tomorrow.
Jerry’s first kill is an inept, desperately gory mess. The film’s barmy appeal lies in its gleefully jarring segues from comedy to pathos to gut-churning violence. It’s a distinct cocktail that’s served up with enthusiasm, but without subtlety. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas, and a tolerance for such an approach will dictate whether the whole product goes down a treat or not.
The cast are all game for the weirdness on show, but its lead especially relishes it. Reynolds really goes all out here as a deeply troubled man with the face of an angel, bringing great comic timing to the role and eliciting genuine sympathy when needed. He also voices the dog and cat, affecting a mild-mannered drawl for Bosco and a wonderfully deranged Scots for Mr Whiskers (think Begbie in feline form).
Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton are as candy floss bright as Jerry’s work clothes, while Jacki Weaver’s psychotherapist provides some wonderful reactions to Jerry’s inconsistent relationship with his medication.
Indulging Jerry’s flights of fantasy alongside the grim reality of his living space makes The Voices a visual trip as well. Everything is angels and butterflies for Jerry off the pills; on them, however, and his apartment makes Leatherface’s house of horrors look like a show home.
The genre clashes that comprise the film continue right to the end with insights into Jerry’s tragic past offset by heavy pyrotechnics. How Satrapi chooses to wrap up matters will no doubt come across to some as even more offensive than the grisly imagery that precedes it. Whatever you make of the finale, it’s a fine use of the core cast’s other talents.
Offbeat to the nth degree, The Voices presents the strangest checklist of the year so far. If a starry cast, grisly violence, and foul-mouthed Scottish cats tick all your boxes, The Voices will satisfy deeply.