Ryan Reynolds stars as a 21st Century Norman Bates in THE VOICES

voices_ver2_xlgRating: ★★★1/2

When Hollywood isn’t desperately foisting him upon us as the next big star and he isn’t headlining some huge commercial flop, Ryan Reynolds intermittently tries his hand at some serious thesping, and when he does, he tends to pick very original, offbeat disturbing material. Clearly, the ex-Mr Alanis Morissette is trying to tell us there’s more to him than just a pretty face.

At this year’s Cannes film festival he’ll be starring in the new kidnap drama The Captive from Atom Egoyan, and before that he took lead parts in John August’s under-seen The Nines and Rodrigo Cortés’ man-in-a-box high concept thriller, Buried. The Voices, which marks a move into live action for Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi and starring Reynolds as deranged bachelor Jerry Hickfang is the most twisted of the bunch, screenwriter Michael R. Perry channelling ’90s era Dan Waters off-kilter lunacy.

Voices_full

It begins shakily with some pretty wretched inter-office awkwardness. As grown colleagues pound fists and call Jerry “Big guy!”, it plays like a Colgate Americana version of Drinking Buddies (Anna Kendrick is even in the cast), set in a warped candy coloured workplace that’s more Willy Wonka than the humdrum fixtures factory it purports to be.

Wonky doesn’t even begin to describe Jerry, whose idea of a classy date when asking out withered English rose Fiona (Gemma Arterton), is a local Chinese resturant with an Asian Elvis impersonator. Agreeing to it just to make him go away then carelessly standing him up, Fiona can’t refuse Jerry giving her a lift home when he drives past her in the pouring rain later that night. After hitting a deer, slicing its neck open to put it out of its misery and slathering his beloved in blood, Fiona takes off screaming into the woods, where Jerry accidentally knifes her to death, claiming through tears that the cat made him do it.

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That would be Mr Whiskers, a foul-mouthed feline who speaks like Irvne Welsh, the Scottish devil, split personality Jerry hears on his shoulder whenever he’s off his meds. Jerry also has an angel in the form of his dopey dog Bosco, who appeals to his owner’s humanity whenever Mr Whiskers urges him to kill. The rapport between man’s best friend and the hateful fur ball (both voiced by Reynolds) is frequently hilarious, such as when Bosco tells Jerry he deserves better, and Mr Whiskers tells Bosco he deserves being run over by a mini-van. As cat and dog bicker inside Jerry’s brain, it’s Fiona who eventually brings out Jerry’s inner psycho killer. Unable to part from the object of his affection, he keeps her severed head in his fridge and soon she’s tormenting him from beyond the grave like Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her. It’s a game performance from Arterton as the wicked witch of the East End, shrewishly demanding tortured Jerry find her some company on the shelf below.

As Jerry carves up Fiona’s other body parts, putting them into rows and rows of plastic containers, the camera glides up over his tupperware tower to find Reynolds looking down the lens doing his very best Anthony Perkins impression. It’s a great moment, and looking out into the audience, Jerry seems to be suggesting that in the 21st century, we’ve all got a Norman Bates inside us waiting to break out.

The aspects of Reynolds that many viewers struggle to take seriously are used to darkly comic effect here, that cheesy Tom Cruise grin and Ben Affleck G.I. Jaw making Jerry the ultimate Ken doll creep, though Reynolds is careful to show how Jerry’s a killer trying desperately hard to be a good man, tormented as much by terrible loneliness as he is the voices in his head. Directorially, Marjane Satrapi ratchets up the creep factor exponentially at the mid-point, as the un-reality of Jerry’s subconscious empties out into reality, and we see his showroom apartment for what it really is, a studentville hovel with pizza boxes and Chinese takeout stacked floor to ceiling. It’s some ickily effective work by production designer Udo Kramer.

A fiendishly macabre Grand Guignol with a wickedly dark sense of humour, The Voices is never so disturbed that it’s repulsive, and for all the gallons of gore, an LSD-inspired, swinging ’60s-meets-Bollywood dance number, with Reynolds busting out some serious moves over the credits is sure to send you home with a demented smile on your face.

Watch my interview with director Marjane Satrapi here.

First published by Vérité Film Magazine on April 27, 2014

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