Dead Silence

Movie Information

In Brief: Incredibly creepy, surprisingly elaborate and almost a complete departure for Saw writer-director James Wan and his co-author Leigh Whannell as they trade in the pointless sadism of Saw for something more like classic horror with Dead Silence. Here they've cooked up a kind of local folklore yarn about the spirit of an evil ventriloquist using her dolls to seek vengeance on the families of those responsible for her death in the 1940s. Oh, it has its share of splattery shocks, but Dead Silence is a horror film built more on atmosphere than gross-out effects.
Genre: Horror
Director: James Wan (Insidious)
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Fairman, Judith Roberts
Rated: R

Not too long ago — shortly after seeing the trailer for The Conjuring — Justin Souther asked me, “When exactly did James Wan become good?” Well, my answer remains what is was years ago — with Dead Silence in 2007, a film I have always thought more highly of than Justin has. I think he was pretty much with the movie until the final sequence where everything is explained perhaps too literally. He thought it was the filmmaker showing off how clever he’d been. I didn’t think that, but I did find it unnecessary. Subsequent viewings make me less inclined to fault the ending — maybe that’s because the film had always worked for me…well, if we exempt some of the more hard-to-digest behavior of characters being rather cavalier in their handling of a possibly murderous doll. (Really, if you have a big creepy looking doll that you think might have murdered your wife, what in the name of Chucky would possess you to put the damned thing in the back seat of your car?) I admit that I’ve since realized — in part due to Wan’s Insidious (2010) — that nothing creeps me out like a spooky old woman.

When the film first appeared, I wrote, “Regardless of the actual merits of Dead Silence, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the boys who helped create the current vogue for repellent sadistic horror with Saw (2004) do a complete about-face with an almost old-fashioned supernatural horror flick. Few things could be less like Saw than this current offering from director James Wan and coscenarist Leigh Whannell. That’s not to say that Dead Silence is a bloodless affair. It’s not. But the gore factor doesn’t extend to lingering over pain for its own sake. In fact, the killings in the film are noteworthy for their speed—terrifyingly so. This doesn’t mean that Dead Silence is entirely successful. It’s at least a few corpses shy of the cemetery in terms of horror classics. It’s a game try, and parts of the film are very good indeed, while most of the scenes at the Guignol Theater are more than that (the flashback to 1941 verges on brilliant). The problem is that the story is too thin for the film’s 92 minutes. Chances are you’ll spot the ‘twist’ ending long before it gets there, and if you can’t guess the mystery mastermind in the second reel, you should be drummed out of the theater. Moreover, there’s a little too much—well, all right, there’s a lot too much—of the homicidal ventriloquist doll, Billy, moving his eyes and doing other creepy things when the characters’ backs are turned. This last is a real shame, because otherwise atmosphere is the one thing that the film has going for it from beginning to end.”

Full original review here:

Generally speaking, I agree with what I said in 2007, but I now think the film is more successful overall than I did then. Time, reflection, subsequent viewings — and the knowledge of where Wan was heading through Insidious — have had that effect.

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Dead Silence Thursday, May 2 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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