JUMPSCARECUT: The Voices (2014)

Year: 2014
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Written by Sasha Hornby 

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a man. A man who hears voices – ‘The Voices‘. When he accidentally kills the woman of his dreams, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he must decide whether he is going to listen to his malevolent cat, Mr. Whiskers, or his benevolent dog, Bosco.

At its heart the blackest of comedies, ‘The Voices‘ focuses on the town oddball, Jerry Hickfang, a simple, happy, overly-friendly dude who works at the local bathtub factory, Milton Fixture & Faucet International. Jerry isn’t like everyone else. He’s a little intense, bordering on creepy, but his peculiarities and enthusiastic nature are what makes him so likeable. And boy, is he enthusiastic! He loves pizza so much he excitedly takes the office’s excess cold slices home – even imagining the pepperoni pieces as love hearts. He adores the tacky Shi-Shan Chinese buffet, with its Asian Elvis, Bruce Lee impersonator and weird Godzilla performances, so unashamedly, he eagerly invites his crush, the English Fiona, on a ‘casual’ first date there (as if he could act casually). A dance with Fiona at the staff party is charmingly chaotic and uncoordinated.

Ryan Reynolds is in his element as Jerry. And voices of Mr. Whiskers (who is inexplicably Scottish) and Bosco. His rapid descent into insanity is not only believable, but he plays it so sweet, so ‘wants to be good’, that you can’t help but root for him. Even as he repeatedly stabs his love, he weeps, pathetically whispering “I’m sorry.” An exchange with his dog is heart-breaking, when Bosco says “You remember last week when you said that there was an invisible line that separates good from evil and you thought you’d crossed it and I said no no no no you’re a good boy?… I’ve changed my opinion.” The self-realisation that plays out on Reynolds’ face, as Jerry truly understands the impact of his killings, is beautifully nuanced.

Gemma Arterton is wonderful as the flirty Fiona, Jerry’s first crush. She’s exuberant, sexy, and relishes being the centre of attention. She’s the polar opposite of Lisa, Jerry’s first girlfriend, played by the always-delightful Anna Kendrick. Lisa is a wallflower. She likes Jerry, a lot, and is willing to forgive his many foibles.

The way Marjane Satrapi frames the juxtaposition between the candy-coloured beautiful world of Jerry’s mind, versus the dark gritty truth of reality, is masterful. It’s a glimpse of his dingy apartment, spattered with blood and littered with rotting body parts, before switching back to Jerry’s glossy clean vision of the same room. It’s a flash of the ashen faces of Jerry’s victims lined up in the refrigerator, compared to the perfectly preened disembodied heads he sees. His mind is so beguiling, it’s not hard to imagine why he prefers his hallucinatory view, why he would neglect to take the medicine prescribed to him.

The Voices‘ is largely forgotten in the wider pop-culture zeitgeist, but for all its madcap pandemonium, it’s a film with a kind heart and wicked soul. Jerry’s psychological issues are extreme, yet empathetically portrayed. As his therapist (Jacki Weaver) says, “being alone in the world is the root of all suffering – but Jerry, we’re not alone.” If anything, there’s a really positive mental health message to take from The Voices: we aren’t alone, and reality is where life is, so seek and accept help, gosh darn-it!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sing a happy song…

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The Escape

Year: 2018
Directed by: Dominic Savage
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Gemma Arterton, Frances Barber, Marthe Keller

Written by Sasha Hornby

“It’s just a phase.”

What happens when ennui gives way to something more annihilating? When the uninspiring daily routine crushes the sense of self? Writer-director Dominic Savage’s empathetic character study focuses on a young stay-at-home mum, Tara (Gemma Arterton), as she is consumed by a depression she’s made to feel guilty for having, to the point where escape is the only option.

To all appearances, Tara leads a fulfilling and desirable life. Her businessman husband, Mark (Dominic Cooper), lovingly provides for their family, allowing her to concentrate on raising their two primary-school-aged children and run the household. The family live in an amply sized house on an idyllic suburban estate. As Tara’s never-married mother (Francis Barber) resentfully points out, “You’ve got it made – two cars and a conservatory!” But the superficial abundance only serves to shame Tara for wanting more.

Gemma Arterton is magnificent in this painful portrait of a woman in search of a purpose of her own. To her husband, she is “babe”, the beautiful woman he married, who dutifully plays the role of homemaker while he proudly earns their livelihood. He likes a “quickie” on a morning, and for her to smile when he has a rare day off work. To her children, she is “mummy”, there to feed them, dress them, clean up their messes, wipe away their tears, taxi them to where they need to be, basically fulfil their every whim and want. Tara’s name goes completely unmentioned for the first hour of the film, a reflection of how she has lost herself in domesticity. Arterton gives a deeply emotional performance as the exhaustion and the desperation of Tara’s soporific existence is barely hidden by forced smiles and a wearily cheerful demeanour.

Dominic Cooper is equally impressive in the supporting role as Tara’s obtuse husband. Through the course of the film he goes through his own 5 stages of grief, as his perfect world crumbles around him. He’s baffled when she cries during sex. He obtrusively puts himself in Tara’s limited personal space in an attempt to get his “happy girl back”, not because he’s a bad person, but because he doesn’t know how else to act. He perceives her unhappiness as an indictment of his love for her, so suffocates her with it. His frustrations lead to angry outbursts (and one solemn, heart-breaking, tearful moment), which act as a catalyst to Tara’s drastic act of wish-fulfilment.

Laurie Rose’s camera is brutally intimate, clinging to Arterton’s face in claustrophobic lingering shots. The audience sees every break in the veneer with astonishing precision. The silent tears she weeps during sex, the wave of panic she feels facing another meaningless humdrum day, the abject disgust at herself for lashing out at her children. The colour palette of the first half of the film, set in London, is cool and grey; a stark juxtaposition to the warmth of the cinematography in Paris. The romantic city is filmed with a whimsical and wistful gaze, an uneasy what-could-have-been unfolding.

The events that follow Tara’s exodus will polarise opinions, but Savage’s view remains morally ambiguous. Never condemning Tara’s choice, but also not endorsing it, we are encouraged to merely understand it. The Escape is authentic, poignant, and intensely affecting.

Sasha’ Rating:

4