The Voices review: a hateful, repellent, empty film

Slashings in the woods one minute, dancing pink forklifts the next - the film’s tone is all over the place

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

The Voices

15, Nationwide

The Voices is ‘a dark comedy about a serial killer’, which is not an overcrowded genre, and I think we can now plainly see for why. I was up for it, initially. The buzz around the film had been good. ‘Unexpectedly pleasurable’, GQ. ‘Wild and hilarious’, Hollywood Reporter. Which just goes to show: never, ever trust reviews. This is a hateful and repellent and empty film. This is not pleasurable, unexpectedly, expectedly, or otherwise and it is neither wild nor hilarious. I bitterly resent each of the 104 minutes I gave to it, and I say that as someone who never has anything better to do. It may even be that I’ll never read another review again.

This is directed by Marjane Satrapi, whose first film, Persepolis, was a charming animation based on her own coming of age in Iran, so God knows what happened here. We can only hope she has since drawn the curtains, draped a cold flannel over her forehead, had a lie-down, and is over it now. It is set in Milton, a small American town that comes highly stylised in the visual manner of John Waters or Wes Anderson or even the Coen brothers, so nothing new to report here. In particular, it is set at the Milton Bathtub Factory, where everyone wears pink overalls and where all the pink forklifts will dance in unison, although I couldn’t tell you why. I can only tell you the tone of this is all over the place. Slashings in the woods one minute, dancing pink forklifts the next. Go figure.

Our hero, if he’s that, is Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), who works in the shipping and packing department and seems like a harmless, happy man-child. He is excited about the work barbecue, and lusts after Fiona (Gemma Arterton), the hottie from accounts, and if you want to know what kind of film this is in one sentence, it’s the kind of film that has a Fiona from accounts in it. Jerry desires Fiona the most, but there are also her co-workers: Lisa (Anna Kendrick) who, we are given to understand, is more on his level, and Alison (Ella Smith), who is fat, so she can go hang. Or she’ll do, as a last resort. This league table of attractiveness (Premiere League, mid-table, Vauxhall Conference) is so offensive that, if I’d had something better to do, I’d have upped and gone and done it. As it is, I’m mad I didn’t walk out, go home and turn over the corner on the top sheet of my toilet rolls or something.

I’m furious, furious, furious, and we haven’t even arrived at the meat of this film yet, which has to do with Jerry’s true state of mind. There are early indications all is not right. He has regular appointments with a psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) who begs him to take his medication. And he lives in an apartment with a talking cat and a talking dog. The cat is a bad, bad cat. ‘Kill!’ urges the cat. The dog is a good, good dog. ‘Don’t!’ urges the dog. The voices are projections of the voices in Jerry’s head. The film makes a big deal of revealing this later on, but I think you’d have to be pretty dumb not to have worked this out from the off. So not a spoiler, just as it’s not a spoiler to say his date with Fiona goes horribly wrong and her decapitated head ends up on his kitchen counter, as that’s the publicity still. Fiona’s decapitated head talks too. Fiona’s head says, ‘I want a friend,’ so the cat says, ‘kill, kill!’ while the dog says, ‘don’t, don’t!’ and you say, ‘Oh God, how much longer to go. My toilet rolls need me! Those corners are probably partying behind my back!’ Needless to say, it ends badly for all the women — including the psychiatrist — who we must witness being terrorised and slashed about, which is pleasurable for whom, exactly? Which is wild and hilarious on what level, exactly?

The Voices doesn’t work as a comedy because it isn’t funny, and it doesn’t work as a thriller because it’s not suspenseful, and it doesn’t work as an exploration of schizophrenia, if that is what this is meant to be about, as it’s not insightful. Jerry is awarded a back story to do with a violent father and a German mother (why German?) who also heard voices, but this is so clumsily told in flashback, is so obviously Back Story, it fails to win us over to Jerry’s side, which, I’m assuming, was the intention. I felt no sympathy for Jerry, only revulsion. Revulsion and boredom, that’s what I vacillated between, and now you must promise me that you’ll never, ever trust any review ever again. Got that? Good.

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  • Stop-Look-Listen

    Ok i promise you i will never trust a review again….

    …starting with yours.

    This a great film with a humorous empathic look at someone who is seriously ill with schizophrenia.

    I saw the film yesterday and thought it was brilliant, i do understand its not for everyone (tho you could say that about any film tbh) not everyone is going to be able to sympathize with someone who has a severe mental disorder which results in murdering people no matter if it is humorous (which it is) the killings are never ultra grizzly or sadistic – it isnt that kind of film.
    Nor would i say it is a horror (which ive seen a few people saying it isnt scary enough).
    Although it may have been written as a horror i think Marjene focuses more on the Human behavior/mental health element more than anything else (maybe a character study is a bit strong – but think along those lines).

    As for the uneven tone – yes it is uneven …you could almost say Schzophrenic – but i know you would have already figured that out right Deborah?…
    … ‘I think you’d have to be pretty dumb not to have worked this out from the off’.

    • Damien Darko

      It’s nice to see that someone actually get’s this film and where it’s coming from! I thought it was brilliantly done and well acted. This woman clearly has no idea what she’s talking about.

  • Alex

    This review is an absolute load of drivel… Awesome film!

  • Nick

    My favourite films are Jaws,Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Rambo.

    • A_N_Archic

      That explains it.

  • HeavitreeMaid

    Sounds ghastly. “Brief Encounter” is MY idea of a film.

  • Jabez Foodbotham

    It’s not often the Speccie and the Graun agree on something. Taking the Graun as the touchstone of false consciousness, to borrow a phrase, I don’t trust Ms Ross’s review either.

  • Kirsty Harrison

    I could not disagree with you more! The Voices is clever, heartfelt, funny, creepy and a bit too long. One of Ryan Reynolds’ strongest turns. The reason it’s tonaly jarring, is it’s SUPPOSED to be jarring. Inside Jerry’s head, where he finds his own Paradise (thanks, John Milton), everything is shiny and lovely and people are the best they can be – see Extra Cockney Fridge Fiona. When he’s out of his own head, everything is horrid.

    I really really liked The Voices, and I’ll be watching it again. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s very good.

  • Jennie

    I feel compelled to write to you, Deborah, about how completely right you are! Awful, awful film. I will never get that 104 minutes back, including the incredibly terrible “dance number with Jesus.” We were trying to make it meaningful-Id, Ego, Superego- cat, dead women, emasculated male…it just never panned out. Not worth any amount of time.

  • Toby1

    Totally agree. One of the nastiest and most disturbing films I have ever seen

  • If a movie makes you feel furious and you feel compelled to write about your feelings, maybe you should consider choosing another job and start writing a blog.

  • Miriam Rodriguez

    Hi Deborah,

    I found your article very interesting as I watched ‘The Voices’ recently after discovering that the initial concept had some elements in common with an independent film I have recently produced, entitled ‘Selective Listening’. I am relieved to say that they are very different, which may mean that you find our film funnier and more insightful. In case you are curious, here is the trailer:



  • this is a lot of hate.

  • Dee Vewl

    I agree, this movie was horrible and repulsive. Not for me for sure. However, I find your attitude and writing to be quite offensive itself. I looked over some of your previous reviews and I found that the majority of them were also written with a negative approach. I realize that you may be a feminist and that you may look at the world in a negative way; but if you are going to pose as a writer, at least please learn how to write. In addition, the fact of the matter is, that attractiveness does matter. To all of us. It’s not the be all, but initially….don’t try and tell me that attractiveness doesn’t play a part. Regardless, of what gender or sexual persuasion one may be! So I don’t see where your outrage comes from on that point.