An acquaintance recently bemoaned the current state of horror, stating that every film that was coming out was either about a guy in a warehouse being tortured, or how going to a foreign country would get you killed. He forgot about remakes of Asian movies, but his point was still valid: too much of more or less the same damn movie. Where were the films that had no immediate comparison to make?
Of course, the sub-genre was more or less revived by James Wan and Leigh Whannell with their 2004 smash Saw, an out of nowhere hit (more importantly, R RATED hit) that led, inadvertently or not, to Hostel, Turistas, etc., not to mention its own yearly sequels. So it is admirable that Wan’s followup (again co-written with Whannell) is as far removed from their previous film as you could possibly expect, which may frustrate some ticket buyers since the film is being so aggressively marketed as being “From the creators of Saw!”. Instead, it is more in the vein of an old Hammer film, or even 1930s and 40s Universal pictures (indeed, the ancient “plane around the globe” Universal logo is used here), than anything that could be considered “gorno” or an entry from the “Splat Pack”.
The film opens with Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) about to enjoy some dinner in bed. They are interrupted by a suspicious package left at their door. Inside the package is a ventriloquist dummy named Billy, which reminds them of an old poem they heard as children about a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw. Jamie leaves Lisa alone to get some food, and when he returns home, she is dead; her jaw ripped open resembling that of an open mouthed dummy.
Under suspicion from the police (represented primarily by Saw II cop Donnie Wahlberg, playing a much more sympathetic character here), Jamie returns to the town he grew up in to find out who sent him the doll, and why.
To say more would be giving too much away. Rest assured, this is a clever thriller that is likely to disappoint fans who are looking for a Saw redux (though there is a nice little sight gag they’ll cheer for if they catch it). Indeed, the film barely earns its R rating. But that is not a slam on the film at all; in fact, it works to its advantage. Just as Saw was a breath of fresh air at the time, so is Dead Silence. It’s a well crafted mystery/thriller with a few good scares, which is about 100x more than most recent genre offerings have provided their audiences.
Not that the film is perfect. The motives behind Mary Shaw’s reign of terror, once revealed, are a bit too similar to a certain New Line franchise, and the “Dead Silence” sound effect is overused, losing its creepiness after awhile. But when you consider how much there is to complain about any other horror film released so far this year (especially from a major studio), these small qualms are hardly worth mentioning.
The score (from another Saw vet, Charlie Clouser) is possibly one of the most effective genre scores in the past decade. Fans will be wanting this on CD even if they dislike the film. Also, unlike Wan’s previous film, there is little to no music video-esque nonsense (or the dreaded “Avid farts”), nor does the entire film look like it needs a bath. The film is solidly directed and beautiful to look at (courtesy of John Leonetti), with a heavy cold and blue look that can make even the tiniest speck of red jump out at you. Whannell impresses as well. His script is solid and clever, with lots of laughs (courtesy of Wahlberg) and a story that neither drags nor feels rushed.
And of course: the puppets. I think it’s safe to assume that your level of enjoyment will depend largely on whether or not you find puppets to be disturbing and creepy. Since that should cover about 90% of all people, there is no reason why the film shouldn’t find a large audience.
Saw IV is coming in October. Dead Silence (which was shot around the same time as Saw II, but the unfortunate death of producer Gregg Hoffman hindered post production) is here now. Appreciate it for what it is, which is the best ventriloquist horror movie ever. Naysayers always complain that every modern horror film is the same, Dead Silence is here to prove them wrong.