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Dead Silence (2007)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6//26/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/25/2007
There are few things that entertainers dread more than the sophomore slump. When an artist has a successful debut, be that a movie, an album, or a book, there is tremendous pressure for them to repeat that success on their subsequent efforts. Many times, the payoff isn't as great the second time, and thus we get the sophomore slump. (In my opinion, this happens the most in music, where bands can't maintain the intensity which drove their first record.) Following the seemingly overnight success of Saw in 2004, I'm sure that many studios were clamoring to host the next project from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (both of whom steered the Saw sequels). Universal became the host of the pair's Dead Silence, a film which would be virtually ignored at the box-office. Was the public right to stay away from this movie?
As Dead Silence opens, young couple James (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa Ashen (Laura Regan) receive a strange package at their doorstep which contains a ventriloquist dummy. James steps out to fetch dinner and when he returns, he finds that Lisa has been murdered. Police detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) immediately suspects James as the killer. The dummy stirs a memory in James of his childhood and he returns to his hometown of Ravens Fair. There, he confronts his estranged father, Edward Ashen (Bob Gunton) and his new wife, Ella (Amber Valletta). After speaking with them, James is reminded of the legend of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), a ventriloquist who lived in Ravens Fair and was buried with all of her doll after she died. A conversation with mortician Henry Walker (Michael Fairman) informs James that many people believe Mary Shaw still haunts the living. James begins to investigate and learns that Ravens Fair has many secrets which no longer wish to remain buried.
With Saw, director James Wan created a very dark film, but one which is undeniably sleek, modern, and at times, sterile. With Dead Silence, it's clear that he has set out to make a classic, gothic horror film. However, Wan takes this idea too far. The movie is packed wall-to-wall with dark & stormy nights, overgrown graveyards, old mansions, an antique hearse, and a dilapidated theater called the “Grand Guignol” (if that doesn’t mean anything to you, look it up). If almost as if Wan is saying, “Hey, you only see me as the guy who made Saw, look at what else I can do!” And to this end, he pushes the gothic aspect to the point where it becomes nearly ridiculous. There is also an overuse of creative transitions, such as the camera traveling into a character’s eyeball only to emerge in the next scene. As with the gothic aspects, this would have been much more impressive if it had been used in moderation.
This emphasis on gothic and dark visuals has seemingly left the film’s story in the lurch. Now, there’s no doubt that there’s something inherently creepy about ventriloquist dummy’s and one can’t knock Whannell and Wan for using this as the story’s jumping-off point. But, from there, things get a bit tedious. Actually, the entire film bears a very strong resemblance to 2003’s Darkness Falls, in which a small town is haunted by the ghost of an older woman. The characters are underwritten, most notably Wahlberg’s Detective Lipton -- his affectation of constantly using an electric razor probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it comes off as odd. We learn very little about James and his father, other than the fact that they're rich and they've had a falling out. The story behind Mary Shaw's thirst for vengeance is straight-forward and vague at the same time. But, I must admit that Mary's M.O. for killing and what she does to her victims is ingenious. The film's twist ending doesn't come close to that of Saw, and may be confusing to some viewers.
So, based on all of those comments, Dead Silence is a complete mess, right? No, it's simply a disappointment. Wan and Whannell are talented filmmakers and the movie is certainly a quality product. It's very well-made, the dolls are creepy, and there are some nice "jump" scares. But, coming from the creators of a groundbreaking film like Saw, one can't help but ask for more. The movie plays as if only the rough draft of the script were shot, leaving many things left unsaid. Horror fans will find something to like and you wouldn't be a "dummy" for renting this one.
Dead Silence lets itself be heard on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate versions, one rated and the other unrated. For the purposes of this review, only the unrated version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is quite sharp and clear. There is a small amount of grain at times, but this is most likely due to the overall darkness of the film. However, the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. I noted no overt video noise on the picture. The DVD carries an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear and audible dialogue and sound effects. The sound design on the film really stands out on this track, as the stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects are all very good. The movie contains a great deal of off-screen sounds, which are well-represented here, and lend an air of spookiness to the film.
The DVD contains a few extra features. An ALTERNATE OPENING (99 seconds) and an ALTERNATE ENDING (4 minutes) contain a wrap-around segment which was scrapped from the film. The new ending doesn't change the overall meaning of the movie, but it does a better job of explaining things. The DVD contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes and all deal with the Ashen's caretaker, who was cut from the film entirely. The 12-minute "The Making of Dead Silence" is a fast-paced featurette which examines the script, the cast, the production design, and the special effects. We are treated to a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage here. "Mary Shaw's Secrets" (7 minutes) is essentially an overview of the plot and a profile of Judith Roberts, who plays Shaw in the film. "Evolution of a Visual FX (sic)" (4 minutes) shows how the shot of the crowd entering the theater was done. The final extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "We Sleep Forever" by Aiden.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long