The Voices come from talking pets but this is no BABE: PIG IN THE CITY follow up, it is a film altogether darker and more macabre. Yet the horror is carefully balanced with humour, and THE VOICES is surprisingly funny for a film featuring an abundance of dismembered body parts stacked in Tupperware.
There are many surprising things about THE VOICES. It is directed by Marjane Satrapi, whose previous form includes film festival circuit hit, CHICKEN WITH PLUMS, and the Oscar-nominated animation PERSEPOLIS, so THE VOICES is an entirely new direction for the director. So too for lead actor, Ryan Reynolds, with a career history predominantly in the rom-com genre. The casting of Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton is also fairly unexpected.
Reynolds plays Jerry Hickfang, a mentally disturbed factory worker, who becomes a serial killer after a number of poor decisions and some bad advice from his pets. Reynolds also provides the voices for Bosco the dog and Mr. Whiskers the cat, who take on characters entirely of their own inspired by Reynolds himself.
“In America everyone likes the dog, but for me he was like a boring Republican guy.”
We spoke to Satrapi about the unanticipated large contribution Reynolds made in shaping the film. “I read the script and fell in love with the cat,” she said. “I thought that the cat was so brilliant. It says whatever we think and we don’t say. For me he was a Joe Pesci type character, but Ryan came up with the idea of the cat with the Scottish accent. I thought it was perfect and he reminded me of a Scottish man I met once – very thin, the same orange hair – and I thought ‘yes that’s it!’. In America everyone likes the dog, but for me he was like a boring Republican guy.”
“Ryan had lots of ideas. I became a fan of him as he does something beyond whatever you imagined, here you are directing a movie and all of a sudden you’re the spectator of your own film. I knew Ryan by his romantic comedy stuff before but now to me he is a Ferrari and they used him like a Peugeot. He’s much more talented than people realise, he can do anything.”
Reynolds perfectly shifts gears between comedy and derangement, making it difficult to put THE VOICES into a box. At times you feel for this simple guy, who has ideas above his station, trying to woo the office hottie with an invite to a naff Chinese karaoke buffet. Then you are shocked by his delusion and extreme violence. However, after the first killing scene where there is a lot of blood and guts, the rest is imagined and perpetuated by the constant reminder of body parts carefully stacked around Jerry’s apartment.
“Fear is the motor of my life. I don’t know how to do something and I have to give it a try.”
Satrapi said that this expression of sinister brutality came to her a few months before they started shooting: “I tried to understand what I would do if I was a psychopath, and I was looking at the handwriting of the psychopath and it’s always very small and contained. I thought this guy, he comes from packing and shipping, and so what he going to do as a murderer, he’s going to pack up. I only show the first murder, then you don’t see it anymore as I thought let’s show that really well then I don’t need show it anymore. Otherwise it becomes too much like Freddy Krueger. You want to say, ‘I know your face, Freddy, and you don’t scare me anymore’. It loses its effect.”
So was it difficult crossing over to this distinctly different film? Satrapi admitted that it was. “Fear is the motor of my life. It gives me chills. I don’t know how to do something and I have to give it a try. To make this psychopath likeable and for people to feel for him, it was a challenge. So immoral and so fucked up! But he doesn’t see the world like everybody else, he is not happy. He wants to be an upstanding member of the community, then something happens and it’s a turning point. One thing leads to another, it becomes worse and worse.” This sense of good intentions and rationalisation helps THE VOICES to retain an air of realism, despite the heavy dose of insanity it delivers.
Working within the Hollywood star system with agents and big production teams was also new to Satrapi but she found the experience beneficial to her personal and professional growth. “I learned lots of things I didn’t know before about myself. You have twenty people talking and you don’t know what they are talking about. I had to explain so much why I made my choices. And it made me understand why I make my choices, because when I make them it’s normally instinctive – I don’t know why I make them. I understand now how to defend myself better.”
Audiences are also likely to leave the cinema knowing themselves a little more than they did before. Maybe you think you can’t laugh at untimely death, but you will probably surprise yourself watching THE VOICES.
The Voices is available from today on DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook.