Every few years a small, buzz-worthy film emerges from the Sundance Film Festival that is so awful it threatens to give genuinely good Sundance movies a bad name. In 2014 that film was the totally tone deaf serial-killer-horror-comedy mash-up The Voices.
Directed by celebrated Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, the Oscar-nominated writer-director behind 2007’s animated art house smash Persepolis from a screenplay by veteran TV scribe Michael R. Perry (American Gothic, Millennium, Law & Order: SVU) The Voices must have looked really good on paper. Especially when you throw in 2010’s Sexiest Man Alive, Ryan Reynolds as the lead, Quantum of Solace Bond Girl Gemma Arterton as his sultry UK love interest and Oscar-nominees Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect) and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook) in supporting turns. But perception and reality, as the film ham-fistedly makes clear throughout, are two very different things.
In fact, the most troubling aspect of The Voices is that, like Reynolds’ deeply-troubled central character, the film simply cannot decide what it wants to be. Based on the cheeky trailers, super cool animated credits and theatrical posters – which play up the gallows humor of Reynolds’ talking dog and cat – one would think The Voices is the next Shaun of the Dead or Re-Animator. When in reality the film is a bleak, truly depressing rehash of serial killer TV and movie cliches trying desperately to garner a few sick laughs along the way.
And while I love a great pitch black comedy as well as the next guy, I just don’t think chatty decapitated heads in a refrigerator are all that funny. Especially when one of them belongs to one of the few likable characters in the movie. I don’t want to ruin anything, but Kendrick’s death scene is so brutal and disturbing that I almost stopped watching. It’s OK to kill characters the audience love in horror comedies (especially in genre classics like Scream and Peter Jackson’s Dead Again) but not in the gory, graphic detail that Satrapi depicts here. It’s just too real and raw and frankly, kind of the last thing I want to see while sipping my free tomato juice in coach class. Yuck!
Equally troubling are the film’s bizarre tone shifts from bright and cheerful – the end credits have an extended musical number with the entire cast and a dancing Jesus! – when Reynolds is on his meds, to impossibly dark and dreary when he’s not. Here again, this is a concept that probably sounded really cool on paper but comes across as positively schizophrenic onscreen. Not funny, not creepy, just annoying.
And while Reynolds does his movie star best to keep all the disparate balls in the air – even voicing the dog and cat characters himself! – and is quite good in the film, Satrapi and Perry betray any audience goodwill he’s accrued at every turn with their hokey, tasteless stunts. I hate to use the word bomb, especially in an aviation setting, but that’s the best word for the job where The Voices is concerned. No matter what you hear them saying, steer clear of these Voices at all cost.
Playing on select British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights throughout the month of June, The Voices is also available to stream on Google Play, VUDU and Amazon Instant Video.