On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: Is This What I Told Myself It Would Be?

Directed by Marjane Satrapi and written by Michael R. Perry, “The Voices” has a phenomenal trailer — snappy, stunning, and with a hunky Chinese Elvis impersonator! I would know; I’ve seen it dozens of times in the decade since Lionsgate made the movie: a feature that, up until now, I haven’t watched and will be using this week’s IndieWire After Dark to recommend to myself. Let me (us?) explain.

This buzzy Sundance breakout from 2014 — starring a sweetie pie Ryan Reynolds as nice guy serial killer Jerry — has all the hallmarks of a midnight movie anyone with an appetite for twisted character studies would love. Against my typically adventurous spirit, and in the face of some overly high expectations, that’s precisely why I’ve avoided it all these years.

With a just OK score on Rotten Tomatoes and a comparable reception on Letterboxd, this visually striking psychological study of a disturbed warehouse worker at a plumbing factory has always seemed like a guaranteed misfire to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that’s because I haven’t heard it praised extensively: a baffling wrinkle in my personal film collection philosophy I aim to rectify now that “The Voices” and its memorably dazzling trailer have come up again in conversation (*).

Still, with Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton seemingly set to play ill-fated love interests to Reynolds in a movie that mainly sees the “Deadpool” actor talking to a dog and cat, it seems reasonable to question why I’m not hearing more about “The Voices.”

(*) This conversation was had with another person. I swear.

The Aftermath: Take Up Arms (Heads?) for the Horror Tragicomedy

To quote a wise and affable mastiff, “I’d like to change my opinion.” Watching Jerry cuddle the half-paralyzed body of a girl (Kendrick) he actually liked — seconds before severing her head, popping it in the fridge, and spiraling into a mental breakdown that would soon kill off yet another accountant (Ella Smith) — I realized I’d never anticipated “The Voices” being quite so… sad.

Horror comedies aren’t for everyone and horror tragicomedies appeal to an even smaller audience. It makes sense then that something as theatrical and melancholy as this might struggle to find a fanbase. Judging by old marketing materials (or the thumbnail of Reynolds in a pink jumpsuit that more often recommends the movie these days), viewerscould only maybe anticipate that this colorful story of a friendly serial killer ends in a Heaven-set musical number complete with an extra jazzy Jesus Christ (Michael Pink). It’d be even harder to predict the 15 or so minutes that come before that: a heart-rending consideration of loneliness in mental illness that’s as difficult to watch as any gore or gross-out.

If I untape you, we’re gonna get on the fast road to mental health,” Jerry snaps at his kidnapped shrink, Dr. Warren (the icy-eyed Jacki Weaver) as she’s tied up leaning against the hood of his truck. It’s a funny line, but more than entertaining it conveys a desperation of feeling generally hard to explore in cinema — something this column has already argued gets easier in the fringes of genre. Trapped in the literal isolation of a single actor’s performance (could the reveal that Reynolds voiced both Mr. Whiskers and Bosco be any better?), Jerry becomes an avatar for the internal echo chamber that plagues not only people with auditory hallucinations but scads of folks struggling with all kinds of unwelcome thoughts.

To the extent to this movie has been written about, Reynolds’ star turn comes well recommend. Still, it’s hard to overstate just how kaleidoscopic Jerry’s torture becomes in the end. The script betrays itself on occasion, creating inconsistencies in its main character’s understanding of reality that comes across more unfinished that frenetic. But even up against his role in the single-location survival horror “Buried,” Reynolds takes his best stab at Scream King status here. Agonized yet artful, the voice behind the titular “Voices” nimbly scales the universality and nuance of humanity’s innermost fears. That incisive philosophical perspective is supported in a script that has the guts to deadpan debate the existence of God as the meticulous work of a multi-talented production design team underlines the grounded horror of what’s just occurred.

Community building through screening is an essential component of the midnight movie space and I’d never tell you that you had to watch something as fun as “The Voices” alone. (I get it, you need to talk about the weird CGI deer and what looks like the best karaoke bar ever built with someone!) But for me, there was an unmistakable excellence to the experience of humming The O’Jays’ “Sing a Happy Song” alone in my apartment as the credits rolled and I set out to write the first-ever solo spin on this column. Stewing in discomfort might be less uncomfortable with a friend, but to take on the challenge of facing down what really tickles, terrifies, and makes us tear up, sometimes you have to go it alone.

Nice job, me. —AF Shut up, cat. —AF

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “The Voices” on Amazon Prime Video. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

  • ‘Dare’ (2009): Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford, and Ashley Springer Star in ‘Challengers’ for Theater Kids
  • Pour Yourself a Tall Glass of ‘Tank Girl’: Bi-Coded Sci-Fi Bubbles Over with the Lori Petty of It All
  • ‘What’s the Matter with Helen?’ Is a Quotable Midnight Movie Ritual Made for Two 

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