Written by: Matt Patti | March 31st, 2021
The Voices (Nathaniel Nuon, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
There seems to be a recent trend in films marketed as “horror” these days. Many of them tend to have more dramatic elements than one may expect, such as more intriguing characters, heightened emotional conflict, and progressive character development throughout that many would not anticipate in the genre. However, with some of these films, the focus on these enriching elements is too great and the filmmakers sacrifice effective thrills and scares. One film that comes to mind immediately that fits that description, in my opinion, is Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a very good film with masterful character development and an intriguing plot, but one that I did not find frightening at all (though I still greatly enjoyed it). I have the same feelings about director Nathaniel Nuon’s new film The Voices: it is surprisingly gripping as a drama, but doesn’t quite hit the mark with some of its horror aspects. Overall, however, I still found the film compelling.
The Voices explores the unique life of Lilly (Valerie Jane Parker), a woman with a tragic past who lost her sight in a horrific car crash when she was young. Now fully blind, she desires to fit in with the other kids, though she still interacts with many people mostly through her speech and hearing. Unfortunately, much of her interaction, unbeknownst to her, is with the spirits of those who have passed away. She struggles throughout much of her life to separate the voices of the dead from those of real, living people. Years later, the voices stop and Lilly now lives with her husband and is an expecting mother. However, with the onset of her recent pregnancy, she begins to hear the ghastly voices again, but this time for a far more sinister reason.
The plot of The Voices is an ambitious, inventive one. Even if the concept resembles The Sixth Sense in a few ways, the story is still told in a unique manner. The plot unfolds with three separate time periods inside the life of our main character, Lilly: when she is first struggling with her blindness as a young girl, when she is a teen attempting to fit in and live a normal life, and in present day as an adult who has seemingly adjusted to her disability (until those maddening voices come back). Through this lens of storytelling, the audience gets to see a plethora of experiences Lilly has had throughout her life. Exceptional cinematography and a suitable, well-crafted score help highlight the key moments of her past and lead to impressive emotional payoff. Seeing Lilly develop across these three timelines is inspiring to the audience, and the layers of her character shine through well. The supporting characters in the film are also, for the most part, given a decent amount of attention by the writers and play their parts in her story effectively.
It is when The Voices attempts to showcase its horror/thriller elements that it falters. The film does boast some creepy imagery and unsettling situations that Lilly finds herself in, but most of them are very predictable. Since the film goes back and forth so much between timelines, the suspense of the horror parts in the first two time periods is decreased significantly since we know that Lilly will make it out of each situation virtually unscathed. Even in the most present time period, though, the scares are seen coming from miles away. Almost any time Lilly’s husband, or whomever she is with at a given time, says that they have to go get something or leaves entirely, the viewer can easily predict that a ghost will show up in the meantime and say something creepy, usually the same overused line again and again. The film experiences tonal issues due to this attempted blend of horror and drama, as I would often forget about the ghostly voices plot point. The attempt at frightening scenes is almost an inconvenience, as if they’re just squeezed in there to remind us that we’re watching a film that is also supposed to function as a horror film.
Other than the failed attempt at horror, The Voices also suffers from some pacing issues, a few small instances of poor acting/awkward line delivery, and a bit too much exposition. However, the unique plot and fruitful character exploration is enough to still keep the viewer’s attention. Even with its faults, it is still an enjoyable film with a compelling plot, well-fleshed out main character, and many gripping, emotion-filled scenes, and although the horror aspects could use some work, they still function enough to maintain intrigue and move the plot forward. The dramatic elements aren’t as impressive as those of Midsommar, so I can’t say The Voices can truly compare to that film, but I still enjoyed The Voices for what it is and what it does well.