Review: Dead Silence

Posted by Peter Hall - July 25th 2007 @ 8:24 pm

Directed by James Wan, 2007
Written by Leigh Whannell

Dead Silence Poster

Full of emptiness, Dead Silence’s script was surely scrapped together after the Saw duo decided they wanted to somehow make a movie about dummies.  They certainly didn’t set out to tell a morbid coming home story, a murder mystery or a quiet chiller.  All of those things make up a large portion of the facade that is this film, but even the dimmest of viewers should be able to see right through the translucent motivations.  Plot, characters, setting, production design – all of these things came into being after the fact.  They were created to satisfy a page minimum placed on two professional amateurs who thought a movie about ventriloquist dolls would be an easy sell.

Speaking of these two.  M. Night Shyamalan gets bad rep as being a director who always throws a curve at the end.  This is exactly what Wan and Whannel do,  except for one crucial difference.  Night’s twists are created as an end to a story, making character the focal point and any twist just another part of the story telling.  Wan/Whannel create short stories that orbit twists, little more.  They got lucky with Saw, the case being that it at least had fun with the conventions of a serial killer picture at a time when no one else was. 

Dead Silence has no such fun.  Unless you call ripping off Wes Craven fun; and he probably would not.  The hero is slightly older, villain older still, but this is nothing but a Nightmare on Elm Street riff.  Mary Shaw, the old broad ripping out tongues, is killed by a mob of parents after she murders a boy in a small town.  Her now restless spirit comes back from the grave to avenge her totally justified death and starts picking off townspeople by way of her ventriloquist puppets, which are all about as scary as R. L. Stine’s Night of the Living Dummy.

Ryan Kwanten plays Jamie Ashen, boyfriend of an introductory de-tounged Lisa hellbent on returning to his hometown in order to…um…advance the plot?  But not before being hounded by Donnie Wahlberg stepping in as the world’s least authoritative cop and the only entertaining person on display.  The absurdity of his role deserves a later mention of its own.

Before I hate on every single aspect of this production, I must say that Wan and co deserve some credit for keeping at least one aspect moderately old school.  The set design and blocking is detailed and expansive, recalling the great hallways of haunted house-type flicks going back to black and white days.  It is a hint of style that really works and gives a fighting effort to hold back all the modern flare of spinning cameras and idiotic transitions.

I’m not exagerrating in any capacity when I say Dead Silence has two of the most pointless post-production transitions ever rendered.  The shot into/out of the eyeball is nothing new (it is even magnificent in some films), which makes the out of placeness of these back-to-back transitions laugh out loud funny.

Speaking of laugh out loud funny, I love you, Donnie Wahlberg.  You’re no longer the man because of your work in Band of Brothers, you’re the man because you were willing to play this role with a straight face.  Aside from being a terrible police officer, the only character trait Wahlberg is given is an obsession with shaving.  Every scene finds him with an electric razor to his never ceasing neck stubble, an obvious hand occupation that becomes hysterical by its end.  There is even a part where, when chasing Ashen, an exhausted Wahlberg yells with an exasperated sigh, "I don’t even have a full tank of gas!"

Best police officer ever and the best thing about the movie, with the exception of a scene that is a blatant nod – so blatant to any fan that the nod might as well have been a full body seizure – to Mr. Marbles and Seinfeld, complete with giant blinking red light.

In regards to scares, unless Goosebumps traumatized you as a child, Dead Silence really won’t deliver too much.  Some of the visuals are great, but the sound department really phoned it in.  One of the pre-attack signatures is that all sound in a place goes dead (get it?); a scenario which should be used as a frightful contrast to the eerie loudness of every day life, but it somehow isn’t.  This probably could pass, but since the killer’s love is based solely around the notion of controlling sound, no leap of faith should be required to logically assume some killer controlling of sound should be going on.  Yet nothing is distinctive, except for the pre-twist summarizing music at the end which I am fairly positive was left over from the Saw OST.

Turning your brain off isn’t the only thing you’ll need to enjoy Dead Silence.  You’ll need alcohol to actually kill those brain cells and friends to do it with.  When all sobriety is removed from the picture, it is going to be a smash.  But unless you make it a habit of going to the theater shit faced and loud, there is no real scenario in which Dead Silence can be called a good movie since it was a studio deal with a multi-million dollar budget and a theatrical push.  There are definite scenarios that could make it fun to watch, but none that include being on your own and with only blood in your veins.

Oh, and what the fuck is up with the actual movie not using the lyric from the trailer?  Rip your tongue at the seam is a great line.  One can only assume, like everything else in the movie, it was merely an after thought.


rss 9 comments
  1. shawn
    July 26th, 2007 | 6:46 am | #1

    I saw the movie and I distinctly remember it being in there. Where I can’t remember as it was ages ago but I do remember the song in there.

    I sense yet another film where I might be in the minority of having actually enjoyed. I will have to watch again apparently but remember really liking it in theaters. Then again though I never really cared for Saw so maybe that has something to do with it. Everything you described here is exactly how I described Saw to my friends when I first watched it.

  2. Barry
    July 26th, 2007 | 7:01 am | #2

    Here, here! Once again you’ve stood up for the genre and seen through another feeble attempt at a horror film. I’ve got to admit I was hooked by the trailer but the film itself was doo doo. Wahlberg made me physically ill in this movie.

  3. July 26th, 2007 | 9:31 am | #3

    But that is why Wahlberg is so awesome!

    I never really cared for Saw either. The only of the series I really like is the second and that’s because it has a Cube-like setting/mystery.

    Still looking forward to Death Sentence, however. Hopefully Wan learns how to edit a flick before then.

    Oh, and that line definitely wasn’t on the HD DVD. That or I’m just deaf and it is said only once.

  4. Rawr
    July 27th, 2007 | 12:54 pm | #4

    Peter you need a forum like basement films had so I can bug you with stuff that has nothing to do with the post.
    Speaking of which, have you read Berserk yet?

  5. July 27th, 2007 | 9:17 pm | #5

    I should probably just hop on IRC for the first time in two years. Is #ninjas still around?

    And yah, been considering starting a forum. But maintaining that is a helluva lot more work than just a blog.

  6. July 8th, 2009 | 3:03 am | #6

    I just recently saw Dead Silence and wasn’t too thrilled about it either. There were some aspects about the movie I did like but for the most part the movie was lousy.

    You were absolutely right about Donnie Walberg, his character clearly wasn’t fleshed out enough by the writers.

    I also noticed the similarity between Nightmare on Elm Street and Dead Silence. Nonetheless, great post by you Brian.

  7. fai
    July 25th, 2009 | 1:06 am | #7

    dead silence is great. It has a good script.
    You are only drowning in your critic world

  8. July 25th, 2009 | 1:04 pm | #8

    “You are only drowning in your critic world.”

    This is my new favorite anything.

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