Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Said SHHHHHHHHHHHH! It's a DUMMY, for crying out loud!

You know what stinks? Leaving a DVD on its menu too long to the point where you get insanely tired of those six bars or so of theme music played on loop, only to then WATCH the movie and immediately hear said looping music over the opening credits.
And that’s you’re “I hate it when I do that” shared misery of the day. It has nothing to do with February’s Attack of the Vertically Challenged Villains!, but it did happen to me when I decided to watch Dead Silence. I felt I needed to share that information.
Now. Dummies.

Quick Plot: A happy young couple are enjoying a night of soon-to-be-takeout when a mysterious delivery arrives. It’s a box perfectly sized to fit on their coffee table (eerily so) and filled with an odd little dummy in a borrowed tuxedo from Billy the bicycle riding Jigsaw doll. 

I don’t always consider myself the most common sense-smart human out there, but even I know that an unmarked ventriloquist dummy dropped on my welcome mat is a sign that I’m going to die a horrible, horrible, and really truly horrible death. I’d probably just jump out my window at that point to minimize the terror, but that’s me.
Anyway, hubby Jamie (who is not me) heads out to pick up the lo mein and returns to his lovely wife’s mangled jaw and dead, oh so dead body. Homicide detective Donnie Walberg sneers through his mustache to name Jamie the prime suspect, but in the most laid-back way imaginable. You know, he doesn’t really think to collect any evidence from the crime scene, like the mysterious package that arrived minutes before the victim’s brutal slaughter. 
Moving on, Jamie packs up the dummy (just ‘cause) and heads back to his hometown of Raven Falls, a dying hamlet now filled with empty stores, ominous grayness, and his wheelchair bound, tuxedo clad dad and new retired supermodel trophy wife (Amber Valletta).

Since the only other people in a 50 mile radius seem to be a funeral director and his loopy wife, we get their side of the spookiness:

Years ago, a sassy spinster named Mary Shaw took the town by a storm with her ventriloquism act. When a bratty redheaded rich boy heckled her, he paid with his life and later, so did Mary. Ever since then, relatives of the ill-mannered theatergoer have been slaughtered via tongue removal and urban legend.

Cue the thunder crash.
Dead Silence was director James Wan’s followup to the juggernaut success of Saw, also co-written by Leigh Wannell. While the film certainly shares a few bits of Saw’s style, it ultimately goes more for a ‘60s ghost and ghoulies vibe than the grisly complications so inherent in the Jigsaw saga. If anything, Dead Silence feels like the kind of movie that should be shown at middle school sleepover parties. Soaked in urban legends, creepy clown dolls and an adorably insane twist, it’s not overly memorable but oddly, quite enjoyable. 

Yeah that’s right. I liked Dead Silence, and not ONLY because it utilized one of my biggest fears, the ventriloquist dummy. Though lead Ryan Kwanted is about as bland as Wonder Bread, the film feels like a genuine effort on Wan’s part to create a grand mythology in this small and spooked town. Yes, there are those tried and trite ‘something in the mirror, oh but I turned around and it’s not there!’ moments so overused in modern cinema, but there’s also a richly haunted look that seems to hover over every frame. The ending is gloriously over the top and while sure, it’s also ridiculous, it ultimately made me smile. And giggle. And then cough, because I’m a little under the weather.
I will probably not honor Dead Silence on next year’s best-of list, but for 90 minutes of modern horror, a gal could do much worse. 
High Points
Donnie Walberg makes a dummy talk. Need I say more?

Low Points
While I adored the absolutely ridiculous twist ending, I do wish director James Wan found a better way to let it unfold than his trademark Saw-esque montage to increasingly speedy angry music
Lessons Learned
Never give your wife a rose. It’s a sure sign you’ll be accused of her murder
If you’re having trouble sleeping after a traumatic event, perhaps setting an evil-looking doll facing your bed is not the best idea, particularly when said evil-looking doll was delivered to you mere moments before said traumatic event

Never heckle a ventriloquist. Duh.
I wasn’t expecting much with Dead Silence. A killer ventriloquist’s dummy movie that nobody ever thought to recommend my way? Though it’s by no means a perfect horror film, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this little throwback. Mary Shaw makes for a unique villain, and any film that utilizes the classic clown doll licker gets a pass in my book. The DVD includes a few alternate scenes and featurettes and while I don’t see myself ever loving this film, it’s fun enough to merit a rewatch if ever found in the bargain bin.


  1. Thank you! Said all I feel about this one. I thought it was gonna be same-old, same-old, yadda yadda 'horror'. But it is actually enjoyable for what it is. I would rewatch, too.

  2. Exactly! For a theatrical horror film made in the 21st century, one could do so much worse. I think there was a school out there that just wanted to hate anything associated with Saw and hence, the low esteem of Dead Silence. It's not great, but it's genuinely unique at times and also has a really nice throwback spirit.

  3. I'm not a big fan of this film really. I thought it was kind of dull and didn't do enough for me to keep me interested. But I'm glad there are those who enjoy it. There's a lot worse out there, that's for sure. Great write up!

  4. Thanks Fred! I love your positivity!

  5. Nice write up Emily. I've been kind of meaning to see this (in a half assed non proactive way) in anticipation of Insidious. I didn't think much about James Wan after Saw and Death Sentence, but he gave an interview with the AV Club where he came off very well, and talked about how he had wanted this to be his Mario Bava movie, and then the reviews for Insidious started coming in, and I figured, "Why not give that dummy movie a shot!"

    And then neither of my video stores had it and there was no room for it on my Netflix queue, so I did nothing instead.

    UNTIL NOW!!!

  6. Now is the time to ACT! I always defend Saw for a variety of reasons, but I do genuinely think James Wan is an intelligent guy and Dead SIlence was definitely made with a certain amount of affection. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts!

  7. I'm with you on this one! I, too, took delight in the ending, and thought that big funeral home prep room moment was extremely effective!

  8. Yay! I feel like this film gets a lot of unfounded hate so I'm always delighted when someone else finds delight inside it!

  9. Ha! I came here to recommend this to you for the next Shortening... I should have known better :D We just watched it last night and really enjoyed it. It felt like a 60's or 70's film instead of a 2000's one, which is a good mark in my book, right down to the fun scare music. I loved the ruined theater and the whole concept. My only demerits go to the sudden intrusion of unneeded CG in the end, and to the lead actor who was a total plank. Seriously, imagine how great this might have been had you had a lead character you really liked and empathized with, like say young Mike from Phantasm... or really *anyone* who felt like a real person and not an ambulatory plot driver. Still, it was seasonal fun.

  10. Exactly! I haven't seen The Conjuring yet, but I'm glad to see James Wan finding more success in the mainstream. I feel like Dead Silence was such a sign that he had something special.