Comedy is risky. If you fail to connect with your audience the time you spend together can be brutal. Just ask any stand-up who’s bombed a set. That disconnect between audience & performer can be even more punishing if the material is aggressive. To succeed, a horror comedy has to find humor in sadism & cruelty and it takes a well-balanced, lighthearted tone to pull that off properly. Curiously enough, The Voices fails even though it nails that balance. There’s a playful party vibe to the movie (complete with a conga line) that counteracts its homicidal maniac narrative very well, achieving the exact kind of tonal balance a horror comedy typically needs to succeed. That makes it all the more frustrating that I just didn’t find it funny and, by extension, didn’t enjoy the movie outside of an occasional chuckle.
The main problem for me personally might just be an over-saturation of Ryan Reynolds. There is just so much Reynolds in the movie. He not only plays the central serial killer protagonist, but also provides the voices that the killer hears in his head, voices he attributes to his cat & dog. The idea of a talking cat & dog inspiring the crimes of a crazed killer sound like it could be played laughs rather well, but it just fails to reach anything approaching humor in The Voices. It’s not that I have anything particular against Ryan Reynolds in general. He has a natural smarm to his charisma that makes him an effective cad in films like Adventureland & Waiting, but whenever he’s supposed to be a likeable protagonist I fail to connect. That connection is made even more difficult here by the hurdles of him playing both a murderer of women and house cat with a Scottish accent. There’s some backstory to his killer protagonist’s childhood, which was plagued by an abusive father & a mother who also heard voices (attributed to angels instead of pets in her case), but it does little to make him likeable or his murderous antics amusing. Much of the film plays as if in Tucker & Dale Vs Evil Tucker & Dale turned out to be coldblooded, homicidal bullies but you were supposed to root for them anyway.
The English-language debut of Persepolis-director Marjane Satrapi, The Voices has so much going for it. Saptari provides the film a delicious living-cartoon setting, a playful atmosphere, and Disney-esque hallucinations that made the tonally similar (but much more amusing & less “on the nose”) Miss Meadows enjoyable, but here it’s all for naught. Even the adorably dorky charisma of Anna Kendrick couldn’t save the film from its core problem of being a failed comedy with an unlikeable ham protagonist. When comedies don’t work there’s just no way for an audience to enjoy themselves. I wish I could’ve laughed at the dialogue coming from Reynolds’ talking pets; I wanted to find them hilarious. Instead I was blankly staring at their stupid, little CGI mouths and hoping for the run time to be over quickly. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will be laughing right along with The Voices’ admirable brand of goofy, black humor, but it’ll be a total chore for whoever finds themselves watching in silence, unamused. Trust me.