Dead Silence Review
Saw was an effective film that, in spite of the gory conceit of the film, was more a thriller than it liked to let on, at least as concerned the whereabouts of Jigsaw. However, with a isn't-he-dead-yet? string of sequels and a great number of films that have bobbed along in its bloodstained wake, James Wan and Leigh Whannell have been wise to avoid piling yet more gore onto the screen in favour of a chiller that Hammer, in between their more traditional offerings, could have produced. Or indeed Ealing as this owes a great deal to the Michael Redgrave story in Dead Of Night.
Opening in a modern-day city, Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) are setting up home in an apartment block. She's looking forward to starting a family but, in the meantime, they're busy redecorating, cooking and cleaning in their new home. A knock at the door interrupts their evening and on opening the parcel, neither can believe what it contains...a ventriloquist's dummy posted from the town of Ravens Fair, where both Jamie and Lisa grew up. After Jamie leaves for the corner store, Lisa thinks that she hears his voice from the bedroom and goes to investigate. The dummy that she had thrown a sheet over only moments before is now sitting upright on the bed and appears to be calling out to her. When Jamie returns home, he steps on the blood stains on the floor, which lead to Lisa's body. Her mouth has been torn open and her tongue ripped out.
The police investigation, led by Detective Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), into Lisa's death doesn't take very long. The police are baffled and so too is Jamie. He returns home to Ravens Fair to bury his wife but in amongst the crumbling homes and the deserted streets, he remembers the story of Mary Shaw. Shaw was a ventriloquist who was driven insane by her act and when one child taunted her by saying that he could see her lips move, the town was shaken when he disappeared soon after. Shaw was accused of murder and a vigilante mob ransacked her theatre, tortured Shaw and finally cut out her tongue. She was buried in an abandoned part of the cemetery but her spirit never rested. Those that murdered Shaw were found dead, their bodies in a grotesque parody of a ventriloquist's dummy and with their tongues ripped out. Now the grave of Mary Shaw is disturbed, as are those where her dolls were also buried. Someone has been digging them up. The hundred graves lie empty and, with his arrival, Jamie has brought one back to Ravens Fair and in the dead of night, he thinks he can hear the creak of its eyes swivelling in its little wooden body.
"Beware the stare of Mary Shaw...she had no children only dolls! And if you see her in your dreams, be sure to never ever scream!" This is the children's nursery rhyme that plays throughout Dead Silence. Like all nursery rhymes, it has some basis in horror, this being the threat of the ghost of Mary Shaw coming to snatch away a child and was, the film implies, sung in school playgrounds to terrify other children with. With that nursery rhyme establishing the tone of the film, it's left to the overgrown graveyards, the constant gloom in the grey skies, the eerie mortuary and the crumbling gothic mansions to add a sense of malevolence and of dread to Dead Silence. It is effective and was brave of James Wan and Leigh Whannell to step away from Saw and its like to make more traditional ghost story. There isn't really anything here, with the exception of the visual effects, that would have been out of place in Hammer's House Of Horror. Indeed, the films that it calls most to mind are the ghostly horrors that never form much of a genre but creep out one by one into the cinemas every few years and which includes The Haunting, The Others and The Skeleton Key.
That said, it's never quite as effecting as The Haunting, mainly because it feels the need to show us something, which is precisely what The Haunting never did. The most bloody moment in the film comes early on and the feeling is that this will be a one-time-only deal. After that, everyone is either dead and present only in spirit or alive but looking distinctly peaky. Grey seeps through Dead Silence and Ravens Fair, in which most of the film is set, is either entirely absent of living people or the gloom is simply choking the life out of the few that are left. Jamie's arrival adds a dash of colour to the place but his father (Bob Gunton), in a wheelchair, requiring assistance to eat and needing oxygen, is mere days away from dying.
There are twists and turns in the story of Dead Silence and, perhaps the film can't help itself, but it disappoints by needing to have Donnie Wahlberg's both explain things to the audience but to have him reach for his shotgun as Mary Shaw's dolls, lined up like in a department store, turn their heads to stare at him. However, even then, the design and look of the film is remarkably good. The decrepit theatre, the ruined Ashen house and the weed-strewn graveyard are all perfect for a creepy film such as this. And it is very creepy, with its use of dolls, nursery rhymes and children but more a film for a quiet night when its sense of unease will be put to good use rather than as the tail end of more gruesome thrills. Like The Haunting, Poltergeist and The Fog, Dead Silence will be so much the better on a quiet Hallowe'en when its chills will have you listening for the creak of floorboards, the wind outside and maybe something creeping inside.
Like any good horror movie, Dead Silence takes place mostly at night or in dark, gothic graveyards where what little light there is is filtered through grey clouds and thick branches. There are moments in Dead Silence where the screen is completely black and the only light is coming from a dim torch. The DVD doesn't really disappoint, at least not by very much. The picture is generally quite sharp but there are moments when background detail is lost in the darkness and the image softens. These moments are few and far between, which leaves this film looking impressive throughout, certainly much more so than many a bigger-budgeted release. However, much better comes with the DD5.1 audio track that makes full use of the front and rear channels to create a sound stage that entirely surrounds the viewer. An early scene stands out, one in which the hum of a neon sign outside the window and the drip of a tap in the bathroom are broken only by the creak that comes when the eyes in a ventriloquist's doll turn to gaze at Jamie. Every sound effect is clear, warm and given sufficient space in the mix to enjoy its moment to impress the viewer. And impressive it is with the soundtrack being well designed to shock the viewer moreso than any of the visuals and with it having a pleasing thud as Jamie's investigations take him into an abandoned theatre. Finally, there is a long list of subtitles, including English.
Alternate Opening (1m39s): Drawing The Fog to mind with its child asking to hear a scary story as their mother puts them to bed, this tells the story of Mary Shaw and how the only thing that can save you is silence. Watching it after the film is more interesting as it would have given something of the twist away and is better to have ben included here away from the main feature.
Alternate Ending (3m43s): This unfinished ending - some of the special effects shots are incomplete or missing completely - reveals what happens after the big reveal in Dead Silence in between the thud of murder and the photographs of a happy, if very dead, family. However, where it would have worked much better is if it had been included in a cut that had also kept in the Alternate Opening, which would have had one connect to the other to suggest a story being concluded.
The Making of Dead Silence (11m57s): Opening with the crack of lightning, the sound of a distant piano and a sepia-toned walk through a rambling estate, this brings nothing to mind so much as Most Haunted. Not that it gets any better than that as this is a fairly typical making of that looks at the design of the sets, the casting of the actors, the shooting of the film on location and on the set, how an impressive-looking theatre was built and then ruined in five days and how hundreds of unique ventriloquist's dolls were created for the film.
Deleted Scenes (3m51s): With the Alternate Opening and Ending being as good as they are, one has high hopes for this set of Deleted Scenes but they prove to be disappointing. However, that's only in the sense that all of the most interesting material is already in the film and that these three scenes simply fill in a small amount of backstory between Jamie, his father and his latest stepmother.
Mary Shaw’s Secrets (6m43s): Be sure to watch this after the film as it tells the story of Mary Shaw but in such a way that it gives away many of the twists and turns in the film. Otherwise, this also describes the casting of Judith Roberts as Mary Shaw and how they went about designing the prosthetics for the character and had her perform in front of an audience in a theatre.
Finally, there is a short feature on the special effects in the film, Evolution Of A Visual FX (4m03s), which describes the use of CG, pre-vis animatics and models in Dead Silence paying attention to one particular scene. All of these bonus features are subtitled in the same range of languages as the main feature.