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DVD Review: Dead Silence

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Dead Silence certainly isn’t the movie I expected from the director of Saw. It’s a solid, slightly more sophisticated horror film, one that I imagine director James Wan was thinking of making when he got his big break with the gruesome, albeit groundbreaking Saw. In fact, it was bold move, making a ghost story when hyper-graphic horror films are all the rage.

Wan wasn’t rewarded with box office success. Dead Silence only grossed $15 million at the North American box office. Yet the small scale, atmospheric horror film is a treat for audiences with enough sense to know the difference between shock and awe.

I say awe because Wan’s jackhammer subtlety is controlled enough to tell a simple tale rather effectively. It’s the tale of Jamie (Ryan Kwanten), a newlywed whose wife is mysteriously murdered after a ventriloquist’s dummy appears on his doorstep. When he finds his wife, her mouth is pried open as if she too were a puppet (the closest we get to gore in this film). While a cop (Donnie Walhberg) investigates Jamie, the newlywed heads to his hometown where the story of a murderous old ventriloquist, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), turns out to be more than just a legend.

Dead Silence very well could have been part of an anthology series, ala Masters of Horror. The story doesn’t call for Wan’s blue filters or red set pieces. The large(ish) sets border on excessive. The boyish Kwanten doesn’t look the part and Wan still hasn’t gained the ability to direct an actor. Yet, Dead Silence works thanks to good old-fashioned storytelling ability.

Wan never struck me as a competent storyteller until I saw Dead Silence. Watching the extras and seeing the characters he cut from the script and the terrible alternate opening and closing, you can see how far he’s come in terms of tightening the narrative since his work with Saw (and presumably as the executive producer of parts two, three, and four). Whereas I expected another incoherent, overacted, gore-heavy, schlock-fest, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the tepid but competent ghost story I actually got.

The only truly unfortunate part of Dead Silence is seeing it fall flat in release. I didn’t love Dead Silence, but I didn’t hate it either. I would rather it succeed than the truly bad horror films that came in the wake of Saw. While Dead Silence may even be slightly bland, it isn’t as offensively bad as the so-called "torture porn" horror films that rely on jump cuts to get an R-rating. I’ll take confidently lackluster over faux-horrifying any day.

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About Daniel J. Stasiewski

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