FEATURING: , Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith
PLOT: A likable schizophrenic struggles to corner reality when he accidentally kills the object of his affections after going off his meds.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Voices is comic in the black style of Blood Diner (1987), yet unexpectedly hits us with grim, sometimes even poignant, perspectives—then throws us curve balls, such as when the movie bursts into a stylized dance number to represent a character’s transition to the afterlife.
COMMENTS: There’s no shortage of movies about crazy guys who murder women. While I like graphic horror, the violence has to further the plot and the plot has to either make me think, or grandly entertain me. In cinema, the torturing of helpless people presented as a spectacle to make up for a poor story line is sick and boring. That said, three recent and overlooked independent movies about crazy guys murdering women have caught my attention as standout works! These films are similar in that in each of them, the killer is the protagonist, and the character-study plots attempt to show us what’s going on inside his head and why.
In these three stories the slayers are vulnerable and delusional in ways that almost make us excuse their actions. Each misguidedly pursues, and us rejected by, an idealized love interest. Each strives to lead a normal life, but keeps tripping over his own mental illness. In all three films, the murderer is schizophrenic who rationalizes his thoughts and actions to, or is advised by, an imaginary confidant. Each entry in this demented trio of serial killer flicks effectively pulls off this fictitious friend gimmick, which not only adds and extra dimension to their respective stories, but oddly—and unsettlingly—compels a twisted sort of empathy for the homicidal central characters.
In director Victor Teran’s Enter the Dangerous Mind (2013), featuring Scott Bakula and Jason Priestley, Jim (Jake Hoffman), is an aspiring electronic music composer who goes completely insane. It’s a serious film, and Jim has serious issues with the opposite sex. His low self-esteem and the near perpetual berating he receives over his ineptitude with girls compounds his emotional baggage. The admonishment and abuse comes from Jim’s caustic imaginary roommate. Rejection by his love interest leads to paranoia, exacerbated by the ever escalating timbre of a strange and terrible chorus of discordant sounds in Mark’s head; disembodied voices mixed with the maddening phonic trappings of our total-immersion electronic media culture.
7th Day (2012) is a gritty, low-budget but well-produced effort authored by Mark Leake, the writer/director of the-esque cannibal exploitation film parodies Isle (2008) and Pleasures of the Damned (2005). 7th Day is directed by Return to Nuke ‘Em High’s special effects technician, Jason Koch, who also did the bloody makeup effects for television’s “Civil War Combat” documentary series.
With this auspicious repertoire, these two filmmakers combine talents to bring us a cynically tongue-in-cheek but psychologically on-the-mark portrait of a serial killer named Allen (Mark S. Sanders) who is torn between his American dream obsession for a Donna Reed-esque ideal of marriage and family and his all-consuming compulsion to smite those he thinks deserve his fist of wrath. Like Jim in Enter the Dangerous Mind, Allen has an imaginary companion and confessor, a mute, microphone-wielding documentarian whose glassine skin stretches over his congealed lutefisk-like flesh with a rigor-mortis grey pallor.
What makes 7th Day interesting is Allen’s introspective narrative about his misguided motivations and his perceptions of the world at large. They are horrible and criminal, but they make an ironic kind of sense. Allen’s perceptions of himself comically indict classic, rustic American paradigms familiar to many. In fact, far from being an adroit, suave murderer, Allen is blundering and graceless. Much more than a superficial monster, Allen has a multifaceted psyche. His depth of character keeps things entertaining, even when the dark comedy takes a twisted plunge into an entrails-strewn gore-fest and a squeamish survey of cannibalistic perversion (providing a showcase for Koch’s makeup effects).
Best of all is the optically stylized The Voices, in which established actor Ryan Reynolds plays Jerry, an agreeable and good-natured bathtub factory technician who appears to lead a clean, orderly life, and tries very hard to fit in. There’s something just a bit off about Jerry, though, like the time delay on a satellite phone call to Australia. It’s the disconnect between the way Jerry perceives of himself and his existence—impeccable, immaculate, rosy—and the way Jerry’s interface with the world really operates.
The disconnect is this: in addition to coveting and blindly pursuing the office hottie who has zero interest in him, Jerry talks to his cat, Mr. Whiskers, and dog, Bosco—and they talk back! Bosco offers enabling guidance in the form of naive platitudes, while Whiskers extends enlightened, but very malignant, advice.
Jerry’s visually striking world is studded by art deco lines accented with striking pinks and other vibrant hues. He lives in an out-of-business, neon-illuminated, classic 1950’s Googie architecture bowling alley.
Objective reality is much different however, and when Jerry accidentally kills the target of his affections, his idealized perceptions crumble while he spirals into bedlam. Yet the viewer is challenged to find fault with Jerry; after all, he’s so affable. Is Jerry a victim of his delusions, of his pets’ evil influence, or is he in fact, a cold-blooded murderer—given that Mr. Whisker’s and Rosco’s encouragement must surely be coming from within himself?
The conundrum harkens to the magic realism of another darkly comic descent into schizophrenia, Neil Jordan‘s psychedelic Irish psycho flick The Butcher Boy (1997), based on Pat McCabe’s stream of consciousness novel by the same name). There, an adolescent retreats into an artificial world to escape from the pressures of his unwholesome home life. As his domestic situation becomes increasingly dysfunctional, his alternate plane of existence waxes ever more real to him…and ever more violent. The line between fantasy and reality blurs and finally poofs away entirely.
Like The Butcher Boy, The Voices has its serious side. While Jerry’s deranged odyssey is colorful and humorous, there are very real and terrible consequences to his actions
Neither Enter the Dangerous Mind, 7th Day, nor The Voices bring to the screen any epiphanies about the Jack-The-Ripper mindset. The way they wiggle our vicarious observation into their grim protagonists’ squirming grey matter compels our attention, however.
Of the three, Enter The Dangerous Mind is the most serious, a true thriller. 7th Day is the most offbeat, eccentric and gory. But The Voices is the most affecting. Perhaps its because Jerry’s character is fully developed and three dimensional. We get real insight into his background and what kind of person he is. Jerry is vulnerable. Despite his sickness, we care about him. We want Jerry to get well, to somehow escape from the ever-constricting web in which he’s ensnaring himself.
If you only watch one film in this trio, see The Voices. It’s imaginative and charmingly odd, its animal actors are cute, its depiction of schizophrenia is convincing, and the colorful, fashionable production design produces lasting images. The Voices is also the most assured of the three in the treatment of its subject matter, because its muted comic tone successfully underscores, rather than trivializes, the scary world of homicidal psychosis.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The quirky film is simultaneously bizarre, humorous, disturbing and suspenseful… the ping-ponging between stylized absurdity and chilling morbidity is compulsively watchable, largely because of Reynolds’ terrific performance.”–Claudia Puig on The Voices, USA Today (contemporaneous)