I watched Dead Silence last night, the horror movie from the writer and director of Saw. Trying to branch out from the tired franchise they started, Dead Silence takes on the rather creepy subject of old-school ventriloquist dummies who seem to possess the soul of their evil creator, Mary Shaw.
Dead Silence stars unknown Ryan Kwanten as Jamie Ashen, a man who comes home to find his wife brutally murdered, her tongue ripped out. As the police, led by Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), grow to suspect that he is responsible, Jamie is convinced that his wife's death revolves around the mysterious ventriloquist dummy that appeared at their doorstep only minutes before his wife found the cat that caught her tongue. The mystery leads him back to his hometown, where he slowly begins to piece together what truly happened to Mary Shaw, and why her ghost is killing people left and right.
I went into this movie expecting the very worst, and Dead Silence wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. Of all the movies I've seen written by Leigh Whannel (the first three Saw movies), I have never been terribly impressed with his dialogue, and Dead Silence doesn't change my impression of him. While not terrible, the dialogue is rather shaky here, and Wahlberg gets several absolutely horrific lines. Director James Wan, following up his mainstream debut of Saw, also does not strike me as overly gifted. Saw was a directorial mess, and while Dead Silence maintains a much calmer and intriguing approach, it still isn't great.
The concept is good - dolls, especially dummies, are always creepy, and Wan takes advantage of them as best he can. Unfortunately, the story isn't anything to scream about (pun intended), as it is no different than other movies we've seen before, where some woman in the past is murdered and now comes back to haunt the children of those who persecuted her (Darkness Falls comes to mind, among others). The dummies are a good addition to the story, but they still are just there to cover up an otherwise unoriginal plot that unfolds exactly the way you'd expect.
On top of that, Wan made the huge mistake of adding special effects where he needed none, and the graphics are so bad they're cringe-inducing. For some reason, he decided to give Mary Shaw a long, repitilian tongue which is meant to represent the tongues of all her victims, but it just looks goofy and completely out of place. There's also a scene near the end where Mary Shaw's face starts appearing on the face of her dolls; the effects are so bad you have to laugh. A long-distance shot of her house burning down also looks like something out of a 1940's movie.
Dead Silence has a few slightly scary moments, but for the most part isn't very scary at all.
Still, despite all that, Dead Silence is a relatively entertaining little horror movie that moves along at a fast pace. It has its moments, and the "twist" ending is almost quite memorable, if not for the abrupt and rather illogical nature of it (Wan and Whannel should have made it more grounded in reality to make it truly effective). I give Wan props for creating some tension by removing sound shortly before something bad happens, a rather interesting novelty in an otherwise unoriginal film.
Dead Silence has its moments and you could definitely see worse, but there isn't enough here for me to really recommend the movie to anyone. It's better than the Saw movies, though, but that's not saying much.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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