What on earth to make of The Voices? Filmmaker and illustrator Marjane Satrapi, still on a high from the critically acclaimed 2007 adaptation of her graphic novel Persepolis, conjures up a bizarre and botched black comedy featuring Ryan Reynolds, talking animals and lots of dead bodies.
Ryan Reynolds plays Gerry, a mentally unstable labourer who sees the world like a comic book, from the gaudy pink factory outfit he dons to the brightly polished yet dingy apartment he lives in.
This dreamlike Technicolor sheen aims for something between David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love. Indeed, Adam Sandler's man-child persona in the latter is clearly being cultivated here by Ryan Reynolds, looking to turn his career from hollow pin-up to edgy actor à la Matthew McConaughey.
It's easily his best performance since 2010's Buried, both innocent and insidious beneath his childlike grin and Ken Doll features. Even more impressive is his voicework for Gerry's pets, managing a southern drawl for his dopey dog and Scottish snarl for the cantankerous cat.
These CGI animals are the most memorable part of the movie, but quickly grow tiresome. Bosco the dog wants Gerry to be a good person, whilst Mr Whiskers the cat insists he needs to kill people in order to 'feel truly alive'. They're Gerry's good and bad conscience you see, with Mr Whiskers even smarmily claiming to be the 'Devil's advo-cat'.
It's a novel idea wrecked by both technological limitations and the movie's tone being as schizophrenic as its protagonist's mind-set. From the supercharged chroma look to his eternally sunny disposition, we're meant to see the world through Gerry's eyes. And yet the animals who talk to him are so obviously fake, so obviously designed to raise a laugh, that whilst they might raise a few chuckles they mainly distance ourselves from the drama.
Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick, both excellent, don't get nearly enough screen time as Gerry's co-workers and love interests, and all other character development is abandoned once the body count starts to rise and the film reaches its bloody if flat finale.
You're filled with revulsion rather than laughs as some characters lose their heads, and the body parts of others are cut up and stacked neatly in Tupperware boxes. But for all these outlandish elements, this dark comedy is rather tame. After treating the death and decapitation of Gerry's victims as comedy, the tacked on piece of psychoanalysis designed to provide sympathy for our murderous protagonist at the movie's end feels unearned and out of place. Whilst The Voices is refreshingly different from the usual serious Sundance fare in that it is deliberately farcical, its thrills are cheap and it's story ultimately without purpose.
The Voices will be shown at Sundance London on 26 & 27 April.