Friday, 24 April 2015

The Voices (2014)

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) had a bit of a difficult childhood. He had a rough life. His mother was seriously mentally ill and his step-father was abusive. But that's all behind him. Jerry works a job he enjoys well enough at a bathroom fittings factory. He's got a nice apartment (even if it is above a disused bowling alley). Most importantly, he has his two lovable furry companions, Mr Whiskers and Boscoe. When he comes home from a shift on the factory floor he'll often recount his day to them as he pours their food and water.

And between mouthfuls, Mr Whiskers and Boscoe will reply.

The Voices is a black comedy drama following Jerry and how he deals with the reality presents itself to him, and how it's different to everyone else's. Things all reach a tipping point at the start when Jerry, the new guy at work, is asked to help organise the company picnic and he's joined on the task by the lovely Fiona (Gemma Arterton). As can probably be guessed from the fact that this is a black comedy, things don't exactly play out well. Things quickly unravel and we take a trip down the rabbit hole involving talking cats and dogs, severed heads in the fridge and obscene amount of takeaway and tupperware containers and one particularly brutal slaughtering.

With The Voices, director Marjane Satrapi leads you up the garden path then brutally stabs you within about the first half an hour. While some black comedies are funny films with a dark subject (like In Bruges or Sightseers or Fargo) The Voices is a lot darker and punctuated by funny moments. As soon as you get used to the concept of Ryan Reynolds talking to a Scottish cat and a dopey dog (both also voiced by Reynolds, fantastically I might add) it stops being funny and becomes really quite sad as it becomes more apparent what's really going on in those scenes. That's not to say that the film isn't funny because it is. It's just that the tactic used throughout is typically something absurd happening directly after something really quite troubling occurs. The finale just before the credits roll is something quite inspired to say the least. The Voices is just kind of like that though, making use of misdirection. The first 15-20 minutes certaintly left me feeling quite confident about hwo the plot was going to go. Wrong. Completely wrong. Things got a lot darker, a lot quicker than I expected.

Satrapi brings a really interesting visual style to the film that really brings it to life. Jerry's world is bright, populated by saturated colours and soft hues. The grisly, visceral gore that punctuates the film makes for an odd mix of the quirky and the horrific giving The Voices a unique feel.

Reynolds' performance is just as important as the visual style in making The Voices memorable. Jerry is a simple yet troubled man. He just wants to be happy and healthy and not be alone. He's not the most intelligent guy and he's in the grips of a truly awful illness that pretty much means he can't achieve all three of the things he wants. Reynolds' showing as Jerry is simultaneously harrowing, hilarious and supremely melancholy. I've never previously rated Reynolds, but his role here has really, really got me excited for what he can do with the darkest comedy in comics that is Deadpool next year.

The performances of Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick are also worth mentioning. They both play characters that they've done before, but they've done them before because they're good at them. Arterton is the sexy and fun woman who can actually be quite cruel and harsh, and Kendrick's the quiet, sweet, slightly self-conscious girl who wouldn't hurt a fly. Arterton's range of expression in her face in particular is astounding.

So, The Voices. It's really dark. Like really, really dark. There are moments of truly absurd hilarity and the kitschy aesthetic that clashes violently with some of the grislier visuals give it a unique and refreshing take on the black comedy genre. the humour in no ways detracts from the drama and it takes much more of a back seat as the picture goes on. The film doesn't make comedy out of the illness though, and rightly so. Jerry is a man afflicted with a terrible situation and you'll watch parts of this film through your fingers not because of the gore but because you feel awful for everybody involved.