Dead Silence (2007, dir. James Wan)
Starring Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valetta, Donnie Wahlberg
There is just something frightening about facsimiles of humans (i.e. dolls, dummies, mannequins). They have been fodder for horror since the 1920s when both Lon Chaney and Erich von Stroheim played ventriloquists using their wooden cohorts for nefarious purposes. This film seeks to find itself amongst the best of this style of horror and is helmed by the creative team behind the Saw franchise. It begins with a promising opening sequence that evokes a strong atmosphere, but eventually falls into the same chasms contemporary horror can’t seem to help but seek out. A lot style and technique over any substance.
Jamie receives a package at his apartment with a ventriloquist’s dummy inside. He leaves the house to pick up some food and while he is gone the dummy appears to murder his wife, taking her tongue. The police of course suspect Jamie is behind it and a detective is assigned to follow Jamie. Our protagonist returns to his hometown of Raven’s Fair, which happens to have a ventriloquist-related curse behind it. It seems a Depression era performer named Mary Shaw was murdering children and the townspeople assembled a mob who killed her and cut her tongue out. Now her ghost, through the dummies is killing off the members of Jamie’s family as revenge.
James Wan is not a bad cinematographer. Using the best cameras available today and tight editing he generates the perfect amount of atmosphere. The set design is top notch and I especially liked the set piece of he Guignol Theater set in the face of a cliff, alongside a lake. Even the dummies presented throughout the film are very effective. Everything came off with the tone of a great, over the top William Castle horror flick. However, the rest of the film is horrendously terrible.
Wan falls back on the same cliche scares again and again. If you have watched even a minimal amount of horror films in the last decade you could easily write the rest of the script after the first 20 minutes of the picture. There seemed to be a plethora of evil things underneath sheets and dummies menacingly turning their eyes to stare at a potential victim. The attempt to add quirks to characters extends no further than having Donnie Wahlberg’s character act like an obsessive facial hair trimmer. And the final “shocking” reveal of the picture has so many plotholes you can see straight through it. The movie ends up being yet another contemporary horror film to be thrown into the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.