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Films that have the sensibilities of both romantic comedies and downbeat horror films don’t comes along all that often, but The Voices brings both of those to the table with ease. Marjane Satrapi’s fourth film – her second directed on her own and first to get wide-ish release of the two – could be pretty easily summed up by just saying it’s about a serial killer whose cat, dog, and severed victim heads, talk to him. But it’s so much more than that, in great part because Satrapi gets right inside the head of this character with every aspect of the film.

In most cases, a film that humanizes a serial killer would be straight-up disconcerting. After all, it’s not like anyone wants to sympathize with a Patrick Bateman type. But Ryan Reynolds’ character Jerry is as far from that as it gets. He falls into a performance like that of Perkin’s Norman Bates; sweet, awkward, and distant, with a dark (although much sadder) mother back-story to boot. And Satrapi does a whole lot to make the viewer sympathize with him even though he’s popping off women left and right. The first of those is Gemma Arterton, whose beautiful severed head makes for a bundle of entertainment when put alongside Jerry’s very vocal, and not always funny, cat and dog (both voiced by Reynolds with the strangest accents imaginable).

And Arterton’s severed head is just one of the many things that look so damn appealing in Jerry’s idealized world without medication, which is exactly how Satrapi presents most of the film. Most interesting are the not-so-subtle details in the production design, where everything looks bright and colorful when he’s off meds, with a glossy and bright sheen to every dang moment of happiness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a date with Anna Kendrick or the presentation of body parts stuffed in tupperware1; nothing comes off as off-putting, just kind of giddy and nice to look at. But the stark reality of life is anything but fun, and it’s in those moments – when Jerry takes the medications and life hits him harshly – that DP Maxime Alexandre’s typical style comes through: grim, gritty, and covered in blood and shit (not that his stylistic stuff, as with Maniac, doesn’t shine here as well).

For all the off-beat situations that The Voices presents, it’s actually a really downbeat film, emphasizing the dark more than the comedy. The laugh-out-loud moments come every so often (talking heads, Jerry and his pets watching animals fuck on tv, the flawless ending credits2, etc), but Satrapi does a lot to emphasize the aspects of Michael R. Perry’s script that focus on Jerry’s mental illness. To think that the guy who wrote Paranormal Activity 2 would craft a series of characters this fun, layered, and interesting is surprising enough, but it’s a film that plays its horror beats less for thrills and shocks, but for pain and sympathy for its mentally-ill character. A lot of that comes through in Satrapi’s knack for leaving a lot off-screen and in the shadows rather than giving into the temptations that the horror genre brings with it. What all this ultimately ends up doing is handing a potentially unsuspecting audience a film that’s weirder, sadder, funnier, and sweeter than it has any right to be.

1You ever wonder how many tupperware containers you need to fit a human body (sans the head)? Apparently it’s over forty!

2All I want in life after The Voices and its ending credits is for Marjane Satrapi to direct a Jacques Demy style period musical with Anna Kendrick.

Directed by Marjane Satrapi; written by Michael R. Perry; starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith; 103 minutes.

The Voices is experiencing a limited theatrical release and currently available for rental on Amazon Instant.