The Voices begins with a dreamlike depiction of happy workers in a pastel-hued town, Blue Velvet only a thought away. Jerry is a clear outsider to the rest of his workmates, but happy to be accepted regardless of his family history of mental illness. Such social acceptance lasts for a while, but Jerry’s secret is fit to burst. In the dingy confines of his apartment, he grapples with his inner torment in a unique way; by talking to his cat and dog, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco respectively (both voiced excellently by Reynolds).
This veritable angel-devil duo, always a step away from perching on his opposing shoulders, form the basis of Jerry’s psyche, where good and evil are ruminated on with cartoonish clarity – but their three-way altercations are only the tip of a giant, sordid iceberg, a harbinger of what is to come. The inevitability of Jerry’s breakdown foreshadows two botched attempts at wooing girls at his workplace: a relationship with Gemma Arterton’s Fiona, beautiful but stuck-up, ends in a ditch quite literally, while Anna Kendrick fairs much better as Lisa, giving the movie a soft, almost normal heart amid the frantic tone of dismembered body parts and chatty pets. Aside from this, a bleak backstory featuring Jerry’s parents feels stock, but stills acts to depict him as not just an ill person, but what happened to him could happen to anybody.
Where The Voices shines – but will also lose a lot of viewers – is with its relentless clanging of differing tones. Its passages of utter moral darkness are gruesome indeed, edging on indulgent – but the pulpiness of these sections only highlight the twisted backdoor of, on the surface at least, a pretty regular if slightly odd guy. But this clashing is never inconsistent in itself, and only serves to highlight the tumult of Reynolds’ mind. The film is as psychotic as its main character in that respect, yet still bears the feel of a black comedy throughout – albeit one that is constantly tuned to ‘pitch’. After all, a movie is all about its tone, and by that measure, The Voices is many different things – which is something commendable, and not an unwillingness to follow through with just one path.
What ties it all together, though, is the winning charm of Reynolds. An expert casting choice, he boasts a sincere vulnerability and awkwardness that may have been lost on any other hunky movie star with high cheekbones. As the madness of The Voices ramps up, he remains its compelling centre; constantly changing but remaining innocent in a twisted, yet believable way (despite his murderous actions), and provides most of the laughs too. The Voices may be perceived as an acquired taste, but only due to its unnerving refusal of sticking strictly to genre thresholds, or displaying a mentally ill protagonist who’s also its antagonist. It’s a genuine Sundance delight – whether that’ll be seen or not is a different matter. And who doesn’t like talking cats with Scottish accents?