“The Voices,” the new horroresque dark comedy from celebrated “Persepolis” director Marjane Satrapi, ought to be a major career moment for star Ryan Reynolds. He plays Jerry Hickfang, an apparently normal man who works in a bathtub factory in a charming little town called Milton. Jerry lives in an apartment over a bowling alley with his cat, Mr. Whiskers, and his dog, Bosco. He’s got a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), the pretty British girl who works in accounting, and he meets regularly with a sweet and understanding therapist (Jacki Weaver). In other words, he seems like an average guy.
The hints that Jerry might be less than normal begin during conversations with his therapist. The signs are in her questions — if he’s been taking his meds, if he’s been crying a lot, and, most notably, if he’s been hearing voices. He replies that he hears them when people speak to him, of course, but nothing else. Then he goes home and promptly gets into an argument with Bosco and Mr. Whiskers.
Reynolds deserves recognition for his exceptional performance in this wonderfully bizarre film — especially following such disappointments as 2011’s unsuccessful superhero-franchise attempt “Green Lantern” and last year’s disastrous “R.I.P.D.” At the very beginning of “The Voices” Reynolds’s nice guy shtick gets a little tiresome, but part of the film’s brilliance is that it’s in no hurry to reveal the depth and history of Jerry’s insanity. Satrapi builds on that slowly, with revelations of increasing magnitude, and the perfection of Reynolds’s performance is made evident as his character’s mind is clarified to the audience. Even more impressive is that he also provided the voice tracks for Bosco and Mr. Whiskers (whose Scottish brogue one would never expect to come out of Reynolds’s frat-boy mouth).
Jerry’s pets serve as the angel (sweet Bosco) and devil (the manipulative Mr. Whiskers) on his shoulders, and while it’s clear to the audience that their dialogue and personalities are really just warring fragments of Jerry’s tortured mind, Jerry’s awareness of this fact is questionable, or maybe he just doesn’t want to believe it. Reynolds’s fantastic performance comes into play again here — even though some part of him knows that Mr. Whiskers is just the feline embodiment of his own worst instincts, we can see him choose to treat the vicious cat as an authority figure outside of his own mind. Equipped with a monster set of mommy issues and demented smile to rival Norman Bates, Jerry gives in to Mr. Whiskers’s psychotic influence, and voilà: a serial killer is born.
Working from a script from Michael R. Perry, Satrapi dances between genres with a wicked sense of humor, toying with familiar imagery and constantly bringing surprises through stark changes in tone and perspective. In one memorable scene, after brutally stabbing a character to death and then being convinced by Mr. Whiskers to cover his tracks, Jerry returns to the scene of the crime. Minutes later, back in his apartment, Jerry butchers the corpse into neatly stacked and color-coordinated Tupperware containers. Her decapitated head is placed in his refrigerator, where — naturally — she begins talking to him, too.
For these moments alone, Satrapi’s meticulously crafted, genre-bending film is as thrilling and hilarious as it is bizarre. Carried by Reynolds’s tremendous performance, “The Voices” ought to speak to everyone.
Criticwire Grade: A
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Though very wacky and deranged, “The Voices” should manage to land a sizable theatrical release based on its merit and A-list antihero, with Reynolds’ uncharacteristic performance generating a fair amount of buzz. However, it might be too bizarre for a wide release to pan out.