Director – Marjane Satrapi, Screenplay – Michael R. Perry, Producers – Roy Lee, Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar & Spencer Silna, Photography – Maxime Alexandre, Music – Olivier Bernet, Visual Effects Supervisors – Manfred Buttner, Antoine Marbach & Damien Stumpf, Special Effects – Nefzer Babelsberg GmbH (Supervisor – Uli Nefzer), Puppets & Animatronics – Chris Creatures Filmeffects GmbH (Supervisor – Chris Kunzmann), Makeup Effects/Prosthetics – Twilight Creations, Production Design – Udo Kramer. Production Company – 1984 Private Defense Contractors/Mandalay Vision/Studio Babelsberg/Vertigo Entertainment/AOM Productions, LLC/Drejundzwanzigste Babesleberg Film GmbH/Elfte Babelsberg Film GmbH/Adi Shankar & Spencer Silna Productions/Panorama Media
Ryan Reynolds (Jerry/Voice of Mr Whiskers/Voice of Bosco/Voice of Deer), Gemma Arterton (Fiona), Anna Kendrick (Lisa), Jacki Weaver (Dr Warren), Ella Smith (Allison), Paul Chahidi (Dennis Kowalski), Stanley Townsend (Sheriff Weinbacher), Valerie Koch (Jerry’s Mother), Gulliver McGrath (Jerry Age 12), Adi Shankar (John), Sam Spruell (Dave), Michael Pink (Jesus)
In the nowhere town of Milton, Jerry is a former psychiatric patient who has gotten a job in a factory. He is delighted when he is selected to help organise the office party as this means he will be working alongside the cute British accounts girl Fiona. Jerry has also gone off his psychiatric medication. He has conversations with his dog Bosco, who is always a voice of reason, and his cat Mr Whiskers, a voice of derision who is constantly advising him to give into his worst impulses. Jerry asks Fiona out but she stands him to go to karaoke with her co-workers. An upset Jerry is driving home when he comes across Fiona whose car has broken down. He offers her a ride, only to hit a deer on the road. The deer speaks to Jerry and begs him to put it out of its misery. Fiona flees at seeing him slitting its throat and he runs after her, only to trip and accidentally stab her with the knife. On the advice of his pets, he beings her body home, cuts it up and puts her head in his fridge where she continues to talk to him. Fiona soon wants companionship and asks Jerry to bring some of her friends to join her. This leads to Jerry asking out and becoming involved with her co-worker Lisa. However, when Lisa walks into his house and discovers what is happening, this endangers everything and soon other bodies start to pile up.
Marjane Satrapi made a highly-acclaimed first appearance on the cinematic stage with the animated film Persepolis (2007). Satrapi was born in Iran but has spent most of her life living in France. She began publishing with the graphic novel Persepolis (2000-3), a humorous autobiographical work that tells the story of her exile and love/hate affair with life in Iran. Satrapi co-directed and co-wrote the film version of Persepolis with Vincent Parronaud and this became a widely acclaimed sensation, including being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film and sharing that year’s Jury Prize at Cannes. Satrapi and Parronaud subsequently went onto make the Magical Realist Chicken With Plums (2011) and she then solo directed The Gang of the Jotas (2012), both in French language and live-action. The Voices was her English-language debut.
The Voices is a bewildering experience. I initially felt visually disoriented by the overwhelming pink design and costuming scheme, which starts at the point of Ryan Reynolds in pink overalls on the dvd cover and comes to engulf the town and factory with giddy effect. Throughout, Reynolds maintains a cheerfully happy upbeat smile while talking to people in a soft voice as though he were simple or medicated. This bubbly cheerful world makes you think of something like Breakfast of Champions (1999) and for a long time you wonder where Marjane Satrapi is going with it all. Through the scenes with Ryan Reynolds having conversations with his cat and dog (and performing both voices himself) – the Scots-accented cat representing the voice of derision and constantly urging him to do his worst, while the dog represents sturdy reliability – you are scratching your head as to what is going on. It is about the point that Reynolds brings Gemma Arterton’s body back home and we see him chopping her up on the kitchen bench, putting all the bits in neatly stacked containers and then placing her severed head in the fridge where she continues to have a conversation with him, that The Voices starts to hit its uniquely surreal stride.
This is a filmmaking approach that is not for everybody. On a scale of weird films, The Voices is way out there – you can guarantee it is a film that is going to piss off a lot of people who casually stray in while flipping channels on cable or randomly selecting it on Netflix. You can never be certain whether the film’s tone is intended as satirical or deadpan until Marjane Satrapi keeps putting little WTF tweaks on it. However, then comes the brilliant reversal where Ryan Reynolds is persuaded to take his psychiatric medication and wakes up to the harsh light of reality where the house is packed to the ceiling with garbage bags, discarded tv dinner trays, dog poop on the floor, where the counter and table are stained with blood, the animals don’t talk and there is a rotting head in his fridge. The ingenuity of what Marjane Satrapi is doing suddenly becomes apparent – where the absurdly colourful and happy world filled with talking animals that we have been inhabiting for the first twenty or so minutes is actually the subjective one that takes place in Ryan Reynolds’ unbalanced head. What we have is akin to films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and David Cronenberg’s Spider (2002) that both make a virtue out of strikingly contrasting the subjective world of a mentally ill person with the outside world, leaving no clear dividing line between the two for an audience – although the difference here is that Marjane Satrapi plays The Voices in a far more comical vein whereas these others do not.
The uniqueness about The Voices is that all of the elements are ones that would make for a horror film and yet in Marjane Satrapi’s handling become something different that avoids cliche genre cues. Although the term serial killer is bandied about, Ryan Reynolds’ gee-gosh expression and simple-minded outpourings of empathy for people, including those he has just killed, seems the furthest from this – at most, he shares a kinship with the boyish Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960). Satrapi serves up a delightfully whacked ending where [PLOT SPOILERS] Ryan Reynolds dies and ends up in a blank white void of the afterlife surrounded by those he has killed where they are joined by Jesus and all of them break into a song and dance number entitled Sing a Happy Song.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this site’s Best of 2014 Awards).