The Voices

***

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Ryan Reynolds and Gemma Arterton in The Voices
"For a while, at least, The Voices rattles along like a charming slasher comedy of errors."

It can be hard to do the right thing. We live in an age of temptation, most of us carrying in our pockets a rectangle whose procrastinatory power is limited only by milli-Amp hours. We live in an age of temptation, where even in the economic down-turn consumer debt is trivially acquired and the kebab shop at the end of the road has a chip and pin machine. We live in an age of temptation, and we don't have to contend with the urges towards companionship exerted by the heads in our refrigerators.

Jerry is not so lucky. Jerry is, indeed, unlucky. Sure, he's got a winning smile, a neatly kept apartment above a bowling alley, a sparkling pink-jumpsuited workplace in the shipping and handling division of a bathroom fittings manufacturer, but he's also got voices.

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Jerry has quite a cheery personality - he recognises what's going on, and in a sterling, breezy, brightly coloured opening we have time to come to like him, with his joy at free food, his recognition that a company barbecue is a "good place to reach out and form relationships with other people." Played with all the toothy charm that Ryan Reynolds can muster he's not alone, we discover, in a revelation that's well kept by the film itself and much less so by the movie poster. We don't have to choose between the 'aw shucks' counsel of our pet dogs and the predatory guidance of our pet cats. Jerry is not so lucky.

As this screened as the Glasgow Film Festival's 2015 'Surprise Movie' it was clear that the audience felt rewarded for the trust they've placed in the festival's organisers - trust that they themselves recognise, as when it was introduced by festival director Allison Gardner (ironically, as she was losing her own voice) she pointed out that while the surprise movie gave her "sleepless nights" it always sold out.

It works well with an audience in a good mood - there are laughs, scares, karaoke, a Chinese Elvis, and for a while, at least, The Voices rattles along like a charming slasher comedy of errors.

It's disturbing though, and not just in the ways it intends. Director Marjane Satrapi's previous work (especially debut Persepolis) doesn't indicate that she'd end up making a film where women exist mostly to be threatened with chilling consequences. Well executed the film may be, indeed, there are some striking pieces of framing and the differences in tone achieved haven't all been done in post-production, with some very crisp bits of work with the limited locations, especially Jerry's residence. However the script by Michael R Perry has some real issues - he's mostly credited with TV work (mostly formula crime and horror shows, and also crime/horror show Millenium) but he also wrote Paranormal Activity 2.

This is a mixed bag. There are some brilliant bits of invention; the intrusion of the real, the incredible specificity of office gossip, the original songs, the calming influence of Jesus on a forklift, but they're outweighed by some other baggage. Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver and Ella Smith all have roles to play in Jerry's story, but feel under-used. There's not quite enough flesh on their parts for them to feel real, and that's the issue with The Voices. We're given the chance to empathise with Jerry, even sympathise, and we see the world through his eyes, hear it, mostly, through his ears, but that's not a good place to spend time, even for Jerry.

Yes there are some good effects (including animatronic, puppet, and good old-fashioned animal work), there's some surprising voice work, even some good old-fashioned choreography, and yes, it's charming, but the unease that The Voices engenders isn't solely from its story. As a depiction of mental illness it leaves a lot to be desired, but its gender politics are worse. Which is, ultimately, a shame, because when it's good it's very very good, but when it's bad it's disappointing.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2015
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A disturbed factory worker dreams of romance... but will he take advice from his dog or his cat?
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