As a child, Catherine endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and grew up to develop a Dissociative Identity Disorder. During regular therapy sessions with her psychologist Anna, she is offered help and guidance to face her past and regain control from Angelina, a character who assumes control of her behavior, thoughts, and memories. Here is our review of The Voice Within.
According to the film’s director, Ernesto Sandoval, the idea for The Voice Within came to him whilst watching a documentary about a woman who suffered from D.I.D. or Dissociative Identity Disorder. D.I.D was previously known as multiple personality disorder and is an illness that is characterized by the person having at least two different personality states. The symptoms also include memory gaps that go beyond what could be explained as ordinary forgetfulness, in about 90% of DID cases there is a history of child abuse, so medical and health professionals believe childhood trauma is the actual cause. Inspired by the discovery of this medical condition, Sandoval created a fictional short film to highlight the common behaviours of D.I.D sufferers including memory variations, alter-ego’s, psychosis, hypersexual disorder, hostility, anger, depression, and suicide. His aim was to bring attention to sufferers of D.I.D who endure the same pain as his lead character but do not get the same coverage.
The Voice Within is not an easy watch, after all, a film about a mental illness that has its roots in child abuse was never going to be straight forward viewing. It’s clear from director Sandoval’s notes that he has good intentions with The Voice Within. He obviously wanted to create a film that contains a message, about a rare illness that he hopes will entertain an audience, however, in aiming for both of these targets he has unfortunately missed one of them and it affects the rest of the film.
It is great to find validation and representations of who you are and where you come from in film but for people who deal with mental illnesses on a daily basis, bringing their issues to the fore in TV and Film can often cause more problems than solutions. Mainly because on screen the majority of mentally ill characters are more often than not portrayed as unhinged, delusional and murderous.
With The Voice Within, Sandoval has fallen a little into a similar trap and the film he has made is not so much a psychological drama like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Good Will Hunting but belongs more in the realms of pulpy psychological thriller akin to Fatal Attraction, Jagged Edge or Basic Instinct.
There is a certain rising tide of madness in The Voice Within which is one of the film’s pleasures. Evidently, Sandoval likes to direct films instead of manufacture them and he has made a good film here, it is very well done and very well acted, but the main problem lies with it not knowing what type of film it is supposed to be. The soundtrack is very thriller orientated and although it is great work from composer Ece Muniroglu, it sits uneasily with the film’s content. The cinematography from Emre Okten remains slick and sharp and there is no denying it looks great but again it just doesn’t seem to fit the dark and despairing tone of the film.
Written by Laurie Henderson, who also plays the lead role of Catherine, the screenplay has a psycho-thriller premise, opening with a flashback, then to talking heads, cut to another flashback and repeat. As an actress, Henderson is far stronger. Catherine as an adult is an absolute wreck, shaking crying, unknowing. As she sits in the psychiatrist’s office, we feel for her and want her to get better. The interplay between her and Anna (played by Toni Romano) is convincing and together they try to make sense of all the trauma and pain she has been through. When we are visited by the character of Angelina, Catherine’s alternate personality which is the complete opposite of Catherine, calm, confident and vindictive, Henderson excels giving a terrific performance as two sides of the same coin.
Who will win the battle for control of Catherine and will she ever beat her illness? It’s a question the film doesn’t really answer. It certainly gives us an ending, but no real answers. It’s emotional in parts and horrible in others but it leaves us with a slightly bitter aftertaste of regret, mixed signals and what might have been.