James Wan has had an interesting career. An absolute underdog, coming from Malaysia via Australia, he made the film Saw. This launched not only one of the biggest horror movie franchises of the new century, but inadvertently a new genre of horror: torture porn. Wan didn’t think it was a fair description for the film. When he made his next project, he sought to make something from a completely different horror tradition.
Dead Silence strives to be a classic horror movie, with a creepy doll and a mysterious villainess. There’s even an old rhyme that all the kids knew, about Mary Shaw and her dolls. It’s got the horror elements. What it doesn’t have is a compelling story. Or lead. Or mystery.
Jamie is happily married to Lisa, and since this is a horror movie, we know that can’t last. The couple is sent a ventriloquy figure, with no return address. Understanding that his wife now has to die, Jamie leaves her alone to get food just long enough for something horrible to happen. After her murder and a brief interlude with the police, Jamie goes back to his hometown, Raven’s Fair, with its convenient Ventriloquy-related myths and superstitions.
He returns to town to find his father has had a stroke and is wheelchair ridden… and he has a young new wife who takes care of him. But Jamie and his father (in a fun if brief performance by Bob Gunton) are estranged. Jamie gets a motel room as he begins his investigation. He wants to know who sent the doll, and why. And so he delves into the mystery of Mary Shaw, famous ventriloquist (really?) who, when she died, was buried with her 100 dolls. Including one that, decades later, was sent to Jamie.
Dead Silence has loads of style (and some of the breakneck, almost amateurish energy that mitigated Saw‘s grislier elements.) And the story makes some horror movie sense. It’s a mystery that can be pieced together. But it’s all kind of a dud. The scary moments, with one or two exceptions, are rather pro-forma. The background of Mary Shaw is kind of dumb.
Explanations can be the death of horror. Too much of the mystery revealed can destroy the mystique. But things happening for just no damn reason isn’t compelling. It doesn’t give the audience anything to play with. And Dead Silence confuses the issue by essentially having a vengeful ghost, and creepy dolls, and not really intermingling the two. The dolls are creepy, and they move. And that’s it. The dolls themselves don’t do anything. Dead Silence forgets it’s the dolls that are scary. The ventriloquist is just the dork that sits behind them.
In its favor, the movie has plenty of style and atmosphere. The dilapidated houses and rotted out theater in Raven’s Fair are impressive feats of production design. It’s mostly very dark and muted, though. The dark blacks are well reproduced on this new 4K UHD release. But it’s not what I’d call a visual feast, or a disc to show off a system.
Dead Silence has its dark heart in the right place. It wants to be a throwback horror film made in a modern style. James Wan and Leigh Wannel wanted to show they had more than the gruesome grindhouse fare of Saw. It looks good, and some of the scares are effective. But the story is never compelling. For every good twist (and there’s a really great one near the end), there are more that are dumb. Or boring. It has a lot of decent elements, but Dead Silence never gets them to all work together.
Dead Silence has been released on 4K UHD and Blu-ray by Scream Factory. The 4K UHD release includes a 4K UHD disc with the theatrical cut of the film, and a Blu-ray with the theatrical and director’s cut, as well as all of the special features. Video extras new to this release include: “Master of Puppets” (16 min), an interview with James Wan; “Dead Assignment” (13 min), an interview with Leigh Wannel; “No Children, Only Dolls” (13 min), an interview with dummy creator Tim Selberg.
Extras making their way from previous released include Alternate Opening (2 min); Alternate Ending (4 min); Deleted Scenes (4 min); “The Making of Dead Silence” (12 min) an EPK featurette; “Mary Shaw’s Secrets” (7 min), a featurette with interviews with the cast and crew; “Evolution of a Visual Effect” (4 min); and a trailer.