The Voices and Enter the Dangerous Mind Offer Terrifying Glimpses Into Messed-Up Minds
Films about serial killer films are more ubiquitous than actual serial killers, and while that’s a good thing for everyone but those serial killers it also means we’re seeing a lot of bad movies about serial killers. In the time it took me to mention the phrase four times two new examples have made their way into limited release (in theaters and/or on VOD).
The higher profile of the two is The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, which uses black comedy to explore one man’s struggle with sanity. He keeps things in check at work and out in the world, but at home his pet cat and dog talk to him like a devil and angel on his shoulders. He eventually crosses a line that he can’t uncross, and his world comes crashing down around him. Enter the Dangerous Mind goes the opposite route with a deadly serious approach to a young man’s illness and the repercussions of his decision to stop taking his medications. There’s nothing funny about this one as he descends quickly and bloodily into a string of violent actions.
They’re different creations, but they share a similarity in taking a somewhat serious look at the dangers of severe, untreated schizophrenia. But again, one tries to make us laugh along the way.
Jerry (Reynolds) works at a factory that manufacturers tubs, sinks and the such, and while the office girls thinks he’s a bit of a weirdo they’ve put him in the harmless category all the same. One of the girls has caught his eye, but while he likes Fiona (Gemma Arterton) she doesn’t quite feel the same. She’s right to be hesitant as Jerry is suffering from some serious mental health issues stemming from schizophrenia. His dog tells him everything will be okay, but his cat is suggesting that maybe a little murder might help lift his mood. Of course neither are as chatty as those damn decapitated heads in his refrigerator.
Director Marjane Satrapi’s (Chicken With Plums) English-language debut (from a script by Michael R. Perry) takes a blackly comic approach to a deadly serious subject, but while there are some humorous moments throughout the first half they don’t mesh well with what’s transpiring (or about to transpire) onscreen. It’s not that you can’t make deranged characters pleasantly likable – just look at Heathers, The Cable Guy, Dexter – but managing that tone is difficult.
Reynolds’ charm and talent go a long way towards making Jerry a “good” guy, but the laughs we get from his quirky shyness fade away as his inner violence begins to come out against the women in his life. He works hard to make Jerry someone we care about, and we almost do before the bottom drops out and the knife goes in. But even then there are clear stabs at making viewers laugh, and the tonal control necessary to balance these two responses is as absent as Jerry’s self-control. The result is comedy that not only feels flat but that also deflates the drama and suspense attempting to unfold onscreen.
The Voices’ final thirty minutes mostly abandon any attempts towards humor in favor of raw emotional terror, and it’s no coincidence that this stretch is the film’s strongest. Reynolds portrays an unhinged man frighteningly well, and we can’t help but fear for the likes of Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver and Ella Smith. All women you’ll notice, and while that’s often the norm for slashers here you get an inkling of how an unchecked inner rage (with a generous helping of mental instability) can often force the fairer sex onto dangerous eggshells in the real world. It’s part of what makes the film’s third act so effective – and in turn makes all that came before so messy and unfortunate.
Enter the Dangerous Mind, by contrast, has zero interest in making viewers feel the least bit comfortable. It’s the better film of the two, by a slight margin, because of it, even though it goes on to lose much of that strength in an attempt to fit some thriller conventions.
Jim (Jake Hoffman) is an electronic composer with a small but respectable fan base online, but while that should serve as an ego boost he continues to feel down about his appearance and personality. Part of the problem is the roommate in his head, Jake (Thomas Dekker), who constantly berates and belittles Jim’s actions. The harassment is at its peak in regard to women, specifically Jim’s lack of experience with them. A possible reprieve comes when he meets Wendy (Nikki Reed) at his therapist’s (Scott Bakula) office. The two hit it off at first, but when a date goes sour the voice in Jim’s head starts suggesting a violent course of action.
Like The Voices above, this film posits the very real scenario of a man whose mental issues and dysfunction with women leads to terrible consequences, but it eschews humor and visual style for a grittier, more abrasive take on the situation. His madness becomes ours at times – not the urge to hurt people, but the jarring conflagration of sounds and voices filling our heads – thanks to sound design that leans towards the edge of annoyance without ever crossing the line. The electronic music and Jake’s angry ranting combine with some hazy visuals to keep us nearly as unsettled as Jim is at times.
Wendy’s dismissal of Jim, again, much like occurrences in the real world, blossoms into Jim’s belief that she’s wronged him in some unforgivable way, and his increasing rage and paranoia at her and others makes for disturbing viewing. Co-directors Youssef Delara and Victor Teran (who also wrote the script) keep things moving and visually interesting but never lay claim to a recognizable style.
It’s an ultra low budget affair, but that actually works in the film’s favor to keep things more authentic and filled with terrifying potential. The problem comes when the story shifts towards more conventional excitement including the therapist’s efforts to uncover a secret from Jim’s troubled past. Sure we get more time with Bakula, but it’s in the service of an unnecessary and fairly obvious “shocker” story line. Other script issues hold the film back including some rough dialogue exchanges and a finale that feels work-shopped for maximum thrills.
Sadly, men reacting poorly to rejection from women – real or imagined – is a nightmare faced by people in real life seemingly more and more these days. While both The Voices and Enter the Dangerous Mind add the extra layer of diagnosed mental illness (and talking animals) into the mix, their core dynamics bring a terrifying situation to life. They’re far less successful in other areas though.