It’s been a fair few hours since I saw The Voices, and I’m still not exactly sure what I just sat through. The prospect of Ryan Reynolds talking to his pets and occasionally stabbing people didn’t sound like an average trip to the movies, and it certainly didn’t prove to be. Part pitch-black comedy, part psycho-drama, The Voices is a full-scale mess – but it’s the kind of mess where Gemma Arterton spends much of the film as a disembodied head barking orders from a refrigerator, so there’s only so much I can really complain about.
Sound odd? Well, that’s because it is odd. The Voices throws its utter strangeness in your face from the off, with Reynolds playing a fundamentally disturbed man living in a world that might as well have fallen straight out of an Aardman animation. The primary colors are bright, the characters are quirky and everyone who works at the local ceramics factory wears bright pink jumpsuits. It’s a world a few uppers away from reality, where every surface is squeaky clean and every conversation may as well be happening in a vacuum. That is, until, Reynolds starts murdering people.
It’s then that The Voices begins vigorously hopping between stalls, all the while drawing comparisons to (and plucking ideas from) everything from Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer to Fargo. The violence, while initially amusingly melodramatic and ridiculous, becomes a tad tiresome as the cycle of murder repeats one too many times. It’s an issue present in plenty of serial-killer flicks – how can you keep the art of murder fresh and inventive? Seven did it through sheer, sadistic creativity, while Sightseers pulled it off with deadpan comedy, but both approaches would have been at odds with The Voices‘ oddball mix of po-facedness and poo jokes.
It occasionally feels like watching a dinner date perform gymnastics when all you really want to do is have a conversation. The film dances between psychological profiling, stylized drama and all-out slapstick in ways that feel far from natural, to the point where it often seems like 3 or 4 different movies mashed together. While watching something this messy is usually entertaining – and believe me, the film is far from dull – it’s very hard to look back on The Voices as much more than a romp through an excess of genres and a handful of knowing references.
It seems so focused on achieving “cult status” that it refuses to acknowledge its limitations. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer dedicated almost its entire runtime to its revolutionary analysis of the murderous mind at work, but The Voices doesn’t have nearly enough patience for such things. The “psychological analysis” of Reynolds’ character is painted with the broad brush-strokes of a screenwriter who wasn’t willing to do any proper research – and don’t even get me started on the laughably vague treatment of medication.
I shouldn’t be complaining about such things when it comes to this type of film (Stoker, for example did something very similar last year and wholeheartedly got away with it), but The Voices keeps begging you to take it seriously when it should just let you kick back and enjoy the silliness. For every scene in which Reynolds bickers with his poorly accented animals, or the growing stockpile of heads in his refrigerator, there’s a pitch black flashback or emotional breakdown that seems ripped from a completely different film.
This tonal polarization works both ways though, and when The Voices gets silly it’s an absolute blast to watch. In spite of all the negative bits and pieces I’ve sounded off over the last couple of paragraphs, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Many of the quirkier scenes were so unexpected that I found my jaw dropping in semi-confused awe – The Voices is nothing if not entertaining, and is blessed with an unexpectedly brilliant leading light.
Much like Hitchcock’s historic casting of Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Reynolds always seemed destined to inhabit the role of a serial murderer. He just looks like a psychotic killer, and his eerie, slightly creepy charm is the only thing that works consistently well across The Voices’ tonal smorgasbord. Pretty much all the other characters are paper-thin, cookie-cutter stereotypes (Arterton’s bitchy office vixen, Anna Kendrick’s lovestruck strumpet), but who cares about that when you’re watching Ryan Reynolds having a chat with a piece of road-kill? I sure don’t.
First and foremost, The Voices is a complete and utter mess – that said, I’m glad that it exists. It would take a stickler to begrudge the world of cinema something this odd, and Reynolds (an actor who, outside Buried, has failed to convince) is rather brilliant. It’s a film that works worst when it asks you to take it seriously, and works best when it doesn’t, but never fails to provide heapings of bloody and completely out-there entertainment. When a film is this deliriously odd, who really needs coherence?
The Voices is a strange, tonally awkward and thoroughly entertaining mess.