With her first American film, Marjane Satrapi takes a daring leap into the carefully mapped world of mental health, tearing apart genres at the seams and in the process, crafting something truly unique.
Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, creator of the critically-acclaimed animated feature Persepolis, finally takes the leap into American cinema with a bold new genre-bending comedy. Built from a black-listed script and starring three of Hollywood’s hottest stars, Satrapi’s first foray into the more mainstream domain set itself up as a definite one to watch. But it seems that no one could have quite anticipated just how significant the Iranian director’s shift stateside would be. Introducing The Voices: easily one of the most bizarre, hilarious and uncomfortable films to be released this year, last year or, come to think of it, any year.
Taking a brief break from his many varying superhero personas, Hollywood-heartthrob Ryan Reynolds stars as Jerry, a mild-mannered factory worker who remains simply content with his life in the small town of Milton. However, one day, after a brief conversation with his talking pets (also voiced by Reynolds), Jerry’s quiet little existence finds itself edging towards total disarray, when he decides to finally pluck up the courage to pursue office hottie Fiona (Gemma Arterton). But when his quest for love almost instantly turns sour, Jerry looks to his pets for inspiration, and soon finds himself in a mentally-troubling downward spiral, resulting in some seriously murderous behaviour.
Firstly, it may come as something of a surprise to note that, despite the above synopsis, The Voices very rarely flirts with the realms of horror. In fact, the large majority of its run-time actually identifies most of all as a comedy, albeit a painstakingly dark one, and it is this total subversion of common genres that sets Satrapi’s film apart from most others. At its centre, this is a small-town slasher flick, a play on the now-classic Friday the 13th-style formula that Hollywood horror has embraced so lovingly. The twist here though, is that between the film’s bright-eyed disposition and Reynolds’ positively adorable psycho-killer, one would never really be able to tell. Thus, The Voices is somehow both the spiritual sibling and the total antithesis of John Carpenter’s Halloween, delving carefully into the realms of mental health to ask the age-old question: what if Michael Myers had simply been misunderstood?
To pull off such an audacious twist on a common format certainly requires considerable levels of skill. Get it wrong and what remains is nothing but a poorly-strung mess. Get it right however – which luckily Satrapi does – and your film transcends the realms of genre altogether, and becomes something really quite special: unique. Obviously with any film that covers new ground there comes issues of reception, and this is something that sadly The Voices is anything but immune from. Between its ballsy humour and hideously dark shifts, this definitely won’t be a film that registers with a particularly wide audience but, at the same time, it never seems to care.
A large part of what helps Satrapi land such a monumental task as this is her bizarrely star-studded cast. Having spent the last ten years trawling the emotionally-empty aisles of the rom-com genre to little acclaim, Ryan Reynolds is something of a revelation here, presenting a whole plethora of performances which end up forming the very back-bone of the film. In fact, The Voices rests almost entirely on Reynolds’ ability to make a serial killer likeable and somehow, he does. Praise must be given to his supporting cast too however, as an equally adorable Anna Kendrick and a positively spritely Gemma Arterton, also show off their full emotional range, proving themselves just as adaptable as Reynolds, even when disembodied.
Overall, Satrapi’s first American film is something of a shining beacon for fans of incredibly dark, pitch-black humour, setting its own standards in terms of taste and indulgence. Although its audience is considerably smaller than some might expect, a film like The Voices will wear its commercial failure as a proud badge of honour: this is a cult-favourite in the making. There is simply nothing quite like it.
The Voices (2014), directed by Marjane Satrapi, is distributed in the UK by Arrow Films, Certificate 15.