Dead Silence (US - DVD R1)
Gabe would say something nice about this movie, but a ghost stole his tongue
One dark and spooky night Jamie receives a strange package containing a ventriloquist’s dummy named Billy. That night Jamie's wife is murdered. Jamie is the lead suspect, but he believes that the legendary Mary Shaw is behind the dark deed. Jamie travels to the town of Raven's Fair where the legend of ventriloquist Mary Shaw originated. Of course Jamie is in way over his head.
Saw was one of the best student films I've ever seen, even though it wasn't really a student film. The fact that it found its way into theatres and made oodles of cold hard cash is a little beyond me. It really should've been one of those video gems that horror fans talk about endlessly on message boards. Instead we somehow now have a new Saw movie every year, and each one makes more money than the last. Welcome to Bizarro World.
In the real world such a monumental independent success would lead to major studio and big budget interest. A writer and director team that manages to rope in almost $104 million world-wide (theatrical alone) on a $1.2 million dollar investment should become the golden boys of Hollywood. Desperate producers should be breaking down their door. In Bizarro World the duo's follow-up feature will come and go without notice, even though it carries major studio backing. The ad campaign will dwindle in comparison to the indie release, and anyone who doesn't regularly visit movie fan-sites will have no idea the thing even exists.
Say what you will about the quality of Saw the ad campaign was brilliant, which is a lot more than I can say for the ugly pop-up ads of Dead Silence.
I give writer/director James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell a big high five for not devoting their lives to the Saw franchise (though they both worked in different capacities on all three), and I was excited to see what they'd do next. Despite the fact that Saw was by no means a great film, it was pretty strong for a low-budget debut. When the word of Dead Silence finally came about I wasn't very impressed with the concept, but was happy to see the team taking a turn away from the oversaturated 'torture-porn' (God I hate that phrase) market.
Unfortunately , nothing about the film seems appropriately stitched together. Dead Silence works when it acts as a grim fairy tale. It more or less carries the essence of legend and campfire storytelling. I bought the back story, and enjoyed the fantastic elements. Dead Silence, much like Saw does not work when it acts like a cop thriller. The giallo-like, murder mystery angle is too arch, and too familiar. It slows the narrative, not to mention the fact that bad dialogue doesn't work as well in a real life setting (Donnie Wahlberg really does his best), and the mystery itself is a little too Freddy Kruger. Occasionally the film devolves into a typical slasher as well, which is something that should probably be below the creators of the semi-subversive Saw.
So the script didn't really work for me, but Wan's visuals occasionally hit the proverbial nail square on the head. The unworldly blues accentuated by burning reds are not the most original visual, but they are without a doubt very pretty. This may just be the Mario Bava fan in me speaking, though. Wan's little touches, like pulling out from reflective eyes or dissolving into a bird's-eye-view from a framed map, are stolen, but give the flick a bit of a visual edge. The guy's got skills to be sure, but he needs a better outlet, and fast.
Here in Bizarro World Saw is the best student film to see a wide release (even though it isn't really a student film), in response, Dead Silence is the best made-for-TV movie ever to see a major theatrical release (even though it isn't really a made-for-TV feature). It's like a very big episode of Tales From the Crypt or The Outer Limits, maybe even The X-Files, and it isn't a bad one. If I saw it on late night television I'd be more impressed. It looks like about twenty million bucks, which happens to be what it cost. And even though I saw the twist coming, it's a fun one, and earns the film a point.
As should be expected from a modern major studio release, Dead Silence looks great. The film is presented in a wide, 2.35:1 ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. The film is very blue overall, and sometimes the colour finds its way into the blacks, but noise and grain are minimal considering the overall darkness. I really do love the way the picture's reds pop out, and appreciate the fact that skin tones don't do the same. Details and highlights are also pretty grand considering the darkness of the transfer.
Sound plays a key role in the film, as every time the villainess tries to steal someone's tongue all the noise is sucked from the area. The sound, of course, blasts in full throttle when Wan is done stringing his audience along. The score, by Charlie Clouser, is kind of Danny Elfman meets Nightmare on Elm Street. It isn't terribly original, but it works. The surround effects during the attack scenes are pretty cool, and dialogue is clear as a bell.
Special features begin with deleted scenes, including an alternate opening and ending. I appreciate the film being as tight as it is because even at less than ninety-minute pre-credits it starts to bore. The deleted scenes all feature the same character, some kind of groundskeeper on Jamie's father’s estate. The alternate opening is pretty lame, but I actually prefer some of the elements found in the alternate ending, which I won't get into for spoiler's sake.
The best thing someone will get out of the EPK featurette is the fact that Wan was aiming to make an old fashion film. I can respect that, especially when people start acknowledging the Bava connotations. The rest of the featurette is a back patting party, and doesn't tell me much about the film's real back story. I really want someone to tell me if Universal dumped this flick or if they really had no idea how to advertise it. The featurette runs about twelve minutes.
Next up is another featurette about the legend of Mary Shaw, which covers the casting, make-up and back story. It's fluffy, but reminded me of what really worked in the film. Seriously, the Mary Shaw legend is creepy and really feels like the real thing. This is followed by a special digital effects demonstration. Though most of the CG is obviously CG, it never feels out of place with the film and the creators should really be proud of themselves considering the budget. The featurette, on the other hand, is a bore. Things are finished with a music video, and a series of Universal trailers.
There are some great visuals here, and if it was a television episode I'd definitely suggest it to horror fans. The script has some really big problems with structure, and could've used a clean-up. I still see potential in director James Wan, but this isn't the sophomore breakthrough he needed. The critics were a little too harsh on the film when it was released, but I wouldn't call it anything other than average. Worth a rent for the curious, but I'd suggest Stuart Gordon's underrated Dolls instead.
Also, I have no idea what makes this version 'unrated', from what I could tell it was barely 'R-rated'. Nothing worse than what you'd see on an episode of X-Files.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 26th June 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Making of Dead Silence, Mary Shaw's Secrets, Evolution of Visual FX, "We Sleep Forever" Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Wan
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Fairman, Joan Heney
Length: 91 minutes
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