Dead Silence (2007)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-03-29 00:05

Written by: : Leigh Whannell and James Wan
Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, and Amber Valletta

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“Beware the stare of Mary Shaw,
She has no children, only dolls.
If you see her in your dreams,
Be sure you never, ever scream.”

A few years after introducing the world to the man we call Jigsaw and helping to usher in a wave of horror that’s now been tritely described as “grim” and “gritty,” Leigh Whannell and James Wan went with an old school throwback for their follow-up. Instead of focusing on the all-too-real (yet wildly plotted) horrors of Saw, they chose instead to weave an old fashioned yarn about a small town with a deadly ghost story.

In this case, our small town is Raven’s Fair, which was once the stomping grounds for Mary Shaw, a famous ventriloquist who died under mysterious circumstances. Legend persists that Shaw continues to haunt the town to take revenge for her fate. A young man, Jamie Ashen, is drawn back home when his wife is tragically killed on the same night the couple receives an odd package containing one of Shaw’s old dolls. After some investigating, Jamie soon learns that the old ghost story that frightened him as a child is more real than he could ever imagine.

As its title suggests, Dead Silence is hardly a raucous affair. Though it does rely on some typical loud jumps here and there, it’s mostly a slow build that trades in the (ahem) buzz saw approach of Wan’s first film for a more subtle one. Whereas Saw is a frenzied affair that bludgeons viewers, one might say Dead Silence takes a more surgical, calculated approach that relies on suspense and tension to drive its narrative. Like Saw, its main mode is one of mystery, but it takes a wholly different approach by crafting a supernatural narrative that’s steeped more in old B-movies (as perhaps suggested by the retro Universal logo that opens the film).

It’s an aesthetically-pleasing film at that; Wan is a gifted stylist whose films are always visually interesting. Here, innovative transitions and camera angles abound, and the film does have an appropriately dreary, somber atmosphere thanks to the de-saturated, gloomy cinematography. The score (from Saw hold-over Charlie Clouser) is similarly haunting, matching the often subdued visuals. The film’s style perhaps makes up for its tendency to be lethargic at times, as the narrative sags a bit in the middle; this is its biggest flaw, as it seems to be missing a certain energy that could keep it consistently engaging. It’s a shame because for all the dreariness, there’s a lot of silliness involved, and perhaps the film would have been better served to explore some more fun avenues.

Instead, I suppose the film just unravels a bit too predictably; the story hits on some pretty familiar beats for the initiated, and the climax even attempts to ape Saw itself with a last minute twist that’s revealed with similar editing techniques. Still, the film manages to be above average; while our lead is a bit uninteresting, the rest of the cast is fun, with Donnie Wahlberg’s offbeat detective character serving as a highlight. There’s also plenty of scares strewn in throughout, mostly involving the creepy killer puppets that are doing Shaw’s bidding. You won’t find any shocking gore sequences, but the film’s unrated cut does restore some gruesome effects work that give the film a visceral punch.

Dead Silence fell on more deaf ears than its predecessor did, and understandably so--it isn’t nearly as good as Saw. It is, however, a fine, quaint ghost tale that’s worth a rainy-day look if you missed it a few years ago. Universal released the film on DVD with the aforementioned unrated cut; the anamorphic widescreen transfer is a fine presentation that reflects the film’s interesting visual palette. The 5.1 surround track provides plenty of rumbles, shrieks, and atmospheric sounds to round out the experience. Deleted scenes include alternate openings and endings, deleted scenes, a making-of feature, “Mary Shaw’s Secrets,” and a visual effects feature. Fans of fun little ghost tales should definitely give this one a look. Rent it!

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