Review: Ryan Reynolds in The Voices

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Recent serial killer stories have been about as warm as a Manhattan winter. In-depth character studies of deranged murderers are in vogue; they’re particularly killing it, pun intended, on television. On NBC, Mads Mikkelsen’s out Lecter-ing Sir Anthony Hopkins on the sublime Hannibal, playing the refined cannibal as a suave aristocrat ladies want to bed and guys want to take cooking lessons from; over in England, the BBC series The Fall finds the young, handsome Jamie Dornan (a.k.a. the new Robert Pattinson, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey) breaking hearts as a loving father by day and strangling women as a sexually twisted killer by night. 

Both shows are bleak and humorless—their punishing dispositions make it that much easier to adore Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices, the French-Iranian director’s English-language debut, following 2007’s Persepolis. A serial killer movie with heart and left-of-center humor, The Voices is both everything those shows aren’t and just as excellent as them.

In his best performance to date, Ryan Reynolds plays Jerry, a textile factory worker with an ever-present smile and a lovable aw-shucks demeanor. On the job, he laughs with coworkers while pining for the beautiful, buxom English woman in the sales department (Gemma Arterton); off the clock, he reluctantly visits his therapist (Jacki Weaver) to cope with a childhood trauma and lives alone above an abandoned bowling alley—well, not exactly “alone.” Under Jerry’s roof also rest his dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr. Whiskers, and they both talk to him. And when Jerry starts butchering women, the pets become the devil and angel on his shoulders.

Mr. Whiskers, in particular, is crude, harsh, and hilarious. While watching a nature special in which two lions have doggystyle-like intercourse, the inexplicably British-accented and perverted Mr. Whiskers shouts, “Change the fucking channel before I explode!” You’re meant to laugh, and you will, but you’ll also sympathize with poor Jerry, a well-meaning, nice guy who just wants to be happy, and stops taking his medication in order to avoid the loneliness that’ll come from no more talking animals or severed heads that cheer him on as he eats his morning cereal.

Shedding the cocky bravado and wise-ass cool he usually exudes, Reynolds gives the character a tragic quality that’s deeply sad, even when The Voices is being silly, albeit with an unabashed darkness. The Voices is the kind of loopy horror-comedy where a cat spits profanities while the decapitated heads of three women grinningly taunt a man to kill some more. Yet Reynolds is always there to ground the insanity. He takes the schizophrenic material seriously, enabling Satrapi to really let loose. Jerry’s murders, all of which are sloppily executed on his part, have a sneakily brutal force—he’s damn near tears as he’s ending lives, but Satrapi offsets his weeping with gallons of blood and close-ups of his knife’s impact. They’re gruesome slasher movie scenes infused with a Mr. Bean-like cheekiness.

That’s the disarming beauty of The Voices—despite being as viscerally grim as Hannibal or The Fall, it’s as inviting as a Saturday morning cartoon. Satrapi ends the film with an absurdist vision of the afterlife, an upbeat musical number that’s similar to the end of The 40 Year Old Virgin in tone but feels like a Brady Bunch musical number performed in pop-art Hell. She knows Reynolds’ Jerry will stick with you, but she doesn’t want him to depress you. He’s a serial killer for the optimist in all of us.

Matt Barone is a film-obsessed writer who, when he’s not contributing to various movie publications, endlessly weighs in on all things horror on Twitter.

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Weekend: Dec. 5, 2019, Dec. 8, 2019

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