By Sean Clark
It seems like forever since the first Saw film took the world by storm, and as the third installment in the series gets ready to hit theaters, we're still waiting around to see director James Wan’s sophomore effort, Dead Silence (formerly titled Silence).
Here's the premise: Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) is spending a quiet evening in his apartment with his wife when there is a knock at the door. He opens the door to find a large package left at his doorstep. There's no return address, just his name written on the outside. He tears it open to find an old case. Inside this case is a ventriloquist's dummy… and nothing else.
They don’t know what to make of it and, after some discussion, continue to go about their business. Jamie leaves to go pick up dinner and returns to find his wife murdered and himself the main suspect.
Determined to find out the connection between the mysterious doll and his wife’s death, his search brings him back to his hometown of Raven’s Fair, where he uncovers the story of the late ventriloquist Mary Shaw and why he has ended up with one of her 101 dolls. The ghost of Mary Shaw supposedly haunts the almost vacant town, and as the legend tells, she will take the tongue of any victim she hears scream.
Dead Silence starts off strong and quick, but then the pace slows, a device that is necessary to tell a good ghost story, and that's exactly what Dead Silence is at the heart: a good old-fashioned ghost story. I am happy to see that James Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell decided to do something different, and while that may turn some Saw fans off, that's why we have Saw II & III, right?
Wan’s directing style has only improved, and this time around he had a budget to really show off his abilities. This film looks very different from Saw; gone is the Fincher style of lighting a la Seven, replaced with a more Gothic tone this time around, which gives it a much grander feel. Visually it's kind of a throwback to the old Hammer horror films but with a modern-day edge.
One of the things I was most impressed with was the sound design. Wan’s use of sound is crucial to this particular story; whenever the ghost makes an appearance, all natural sound seems to slow to a complete halt, and the subsequent silence is creepy as hell!
If I have any complaints, they stem from some of the performances. Ryan Kwanten is decent but doesn’t really set the world on fire. I didn’t find myself caring much about his character and was more interested in the story surrounding him. Michael Fairman, who plays Henry, the town’s mortician, was a bit over-the-top in his performance and not very believable. However, ex-New Kid Donnie (Saw II) Wahlberg was quite good as the cocky wise-cracking detective watching Jamie’s every move. The stand-out is Judith Roberts as Mary Shaw, who gives a chilling performance that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
If you go in expecting the kind of blood loss featured in the Saw films, you may be disappointed, though I can happily say there is some gore and there are some very badass effects and make-up designs in Dead Silence. More importantly what the film delivers is scares. The Saw films shock more than they scare, but with this film Wan proves his ability to terrify an audience as well.
I was glad to see that Wan and Whannell went on a different path and created something that may show Saw's influences but isn’t following the current horror trends that, let’s face it, they helped start. The only thing I found out of place was the ending. They end the film with a twist that, while clever, is completely unnecessary. I don't want to give too much away, but I can say this: Dead Silence ends nearly the same way Saw does, down to using the same music during the big twist (which I'm guessing is only temporary since I saw a rough cut).
Overall I left the film very happy with what I had just seen and actually looking forward to seeing it again. Dead Silence will be in theaters on March 16. For more information, visit the film's official website.