Movie Number– 108
Title– Dead Silence (2007)
Running Time– 91 minutes
Director– James Wan
Writer– Leigh Whannell (screenplay), James Wan (story)
Starring– Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, Amber Velletta, Judith Roberts
There are some movies that I watch in theatres and dislike, but then re-watch them at home and my opinion changes. On this second viewing, something clicks with me – or, more likely, the hype is no longer there – and I start to love the movie. The Strangers is an example of one of these, as is Cabin Fever. I decided to watch Dead Silence again with the hopes that the same would happen with it. Coming in to Dead Silence when it was released in 2007, there was a lot of personal hype built up for this movie because it was from the guys who brought me one of my favorite horror series to date: SAW. I expected this to scare the hell out of me, disgust me, or both.
(It should also be noted that R.L. Stine’s Night of the Living Dummy books [from the Goosebumps series] were my favorite books as a kid, and they scared me to death, so I was hoping for more of the same scares with ventriloquism being at the heart of both.)
Unlike The Strangers and Cabin Fever, though, Dead Silence is a generic film that didn’t win my heart.
Dead Silence is an old-fashioned ghost story at its heart. Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Ella (Laura Regan) receive a package outside the door of their New York City apartment. There is no address on the large box, just Jamie’s name. They open it to reveal an odd-looking ventriloquist dummy. Ella remembers a poem from their childhood about a woman named Mary Shaw: “beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children, only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams, be sure you never, ever scream”. This mysterious delivery catapults Jamie into a nightmare world that is owned and operated by Mary Shaw. Jamie goes back to his hometown of Ravens Fair – where Mary Shaw, a famous ventriloquist, was murdered – to search for answers to the recent events that have shook his world.
Anyone who is familiar with the original SAW will likely notice similarities between the two films in terms of style (thanks to James Wan directing and helping write both). One thing that sets Dead Silence ahead of SAW, though, is the wonderful cinematography. There are a lot of beautiful shots through this film, and it helped to set the mood for the old-fashioned ghost story. This could have, and should have, been taken further to distinguish itself even more as a ghost story instead of a serial killer flick/torture film. I wanted director James Wan to use the obvious skill he has for filmmaking to make the ghostly encounters, and the encounters with the ventriloquist dummy, even scarier. There were points that were genuinely scary, but there were (too) many other parts that I felt could have been scarier and tenser if Wan didn’t pull punches. To be honest, though, I felt Wan did an excellent job, and, as a gamer, I am ecstatic that he is directing the upcoming Castlevania movie.
Dead Silence’s transition from “good” to “meh” comes from the script/story. There were not a lot of lines that I felt were terrible, instead it was the whole premise of the story that just didn’t hold up. I am unable to elaborate too much without divulging spoilers, but I will say that the ending of the movie doesn’t work for me. Writers Wan and Leigh Whannel gave me too big of a pill to swallow, and I spit it back up. I give them credit for making Mary Shaw the most important character – “making the hunter the main character,” like James Wan says in the special features – and I found her story intriguing. It’s just too fragile to hold up through the whole film, and it finally breaks at the end.
Marky Mark’s brother, Donnie Wahlberg, plays the detective of the movie. His character is really more of an archetype than an actual human character (meaning he plays “the prick, non-believing cop who shaves a lot” instead of a real person). This is how the character is written, though, so I don’t fault Wahlberg and thought he was entertaining in the role. Ryan Kwanten, playing Jamie Ashen, never had me wincing in displeasure at his acting chops, but was forgettable. I caught his Australian accent popping up at points during the film also, but this was very minor and most would not even notice it. Judith Roberts (Mary Shaw), on the other hand, was fantastic, and her makeup artists did some remarkable work. She has a demoted look to her, which made her casting of Mary Shaw absolutely spot-on. The work done by veteran actor Michael Fairman (playing the supporting role of Henry Walker) almost steals the show. He and Judith Roberts were both very effective, and I found myself thinking about these two characters more than any other hours after the movie was over. This was probably because these two characters were the most fleshed out in the script, which is something that really matters to me: I want real, human characters (well, ghostly characters in this case), not caricatures and/or archetypes.
I would recommend Dead Silence to horror movie fans, and especially fans of James Wan’s movies, as long as they know what to expect. There will not be a lot of blood and gore; instead Wan relies on the ghost stories of old to deliver his scares. The problem, though, is that he pulls some punches, and doesn’t deliver the scariest movie he undoubtedly can. Not a bad movie, but it could have been one of the scariest movies around if the story was stronger, and the scares were unleashed to their maximum potential.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.