Alright, so I realize starting my month with a movie that’s seven years old may seem like a strange choice, but hear me out. I really hate puppets. And, not because I think they are scary. It’s because I think they’re really annoying. Muppets, marionettes, those weird yarn dolls that always seem to inhabit church play rooms. I hate them all. As a kid, Night of the Living Dummy was my least favorite Goosebumps book. So, years ago when I worked in the video store and this flick came out on DVD, I pretty much disregarded it based on the cover.
I assumed this would be a film that faded off into the distance, but the years have passed and I continue to see it in Halloween movie sections and immortalized in the pages of my favorite magazines. When this film finally showed up on Netflix, I realized that it just wasn’t going away. Since 2007, James Wan, the director of the film, has earned a special place in my heart. I really like Insidious and The Conjuring for their attention to detail and for how they stick so closely to true accounts of demonic oppression. Even though I think Insidious 2 is a gigantic nanner of a film, (can you believe Leigh Wannell has written a script for Insidious 3?…oh boy), What Wan has done right has more than made up for that transgression.
Alright, now that I’ve explained myself I have to say, Dead Silence was really a movie that has me sitting on the fence. There are definitely some things to like here. This story totally feels like a piece of folklore; something that was born from word of mouth and is true simply because people think it is. Mary Shaw is your standard, creepy as hell, childless ghost lady with a giant bun on her head. When we see her “scary face” it’s about what you’d expect: cloudy eyes, pale skin, and sunken features. Even though that does not personally scare me, I can appreciate her as a character that sort of revives tradition. And thankfully, they never give her the gaping mouth expression that I so hate (see: any Asian ghost movie adapted for the U.S.). Shaw even has her own creepy jingle.
Beware the stare of Mary Shaw
She had no children, only dolls
and if you see her in your dreams
Make sure you never ever scream…
There are also some standard Wan perks that come with Dead Silence. Most notably, the lighting. I hate to watch a horror movie that is so dark I can’t see what’s happening. I know these directors are trying to lay on the atmosphere, but they gotta give me something to work with. Wan delivers on this level, every time. There are some great moments in Dead Silence, like in the opening scenes when Jaime’s (Ryan Kwanten) wife is back lit as she walks closer to her bed and the infamous dummy, Billy, on a stormy night. It’s reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis, skittering through her dark house while Michael Myers is in pursuit. Simple tricks of light are used to add suspense, and more importantly, let us see what’s happening without giving it completely away. Seeing Ryan Kwanten scramble under the flashing light of a motel no vacancy sign, or watching as he swims out of a giant hole in the old theatre under a flashlight path; these are clever ways to get around the darkness that is inherent to horror films. In addition, the dialogue here just worked. Dead Silence is void of those sort of cheesy lines that usually come with the victims in these sorts of films. Jaime never yells “nooooo!” into a rainy sky, and he doesn’t really go overboard trying to explain himself to other characters. Basically, the script keeps it simple in a good way.
Unfortunately, since Dead Silence was so well lit that I could also see some things I didn’t like in the film. For starters, Donnie Wahlberg’s flat, stereotypical detective impersonation. Maybe this was intentional, since the whole concept of the film sort of plays on traditional storytelling, but I just found Detective Lipton utterly unconvincing, and unnecessary. Nothing about this character was needed to move the plot forward. Jaime already has a dummy that’s just as impervious as a Good Guy Chuckie doll hot on his heels, so why add the not threatening threat of the detective who says he wants to help when really he’s just being a plot hindrance? There are enough supporting characters here to move the story along. The Walkers could have been further utilized and easily filled any gaps that a missing Detective Lipton might have left, had he been removed from the script.
Also, this just doesn’t do it for me.
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Wan use this look too many times now, particularly in the Insidious films. Perhaps if I’d seen this movie before I’d seen Insidious 2, I wouldn’t feel so averse to the “spooky blue face” look. Basically, Shaw looks too much like Mother Crane. or, I guess Mother Crane looks too much like Shaw? Again, the lighting is right here, and in all honesty, if I saw this shit looking at me from the darkness of my bedroom, I would be freaked out; but, for some reason I’m just not into it in these movies, despite the fact that I like the dummy jaw make-up. Also, a minor nit-pick/praise…these scary folk really like to pop out of billowy, sheer curtains. I don’t mean to complain, because it looks pretty cool, but it sure does happen a lot!
Just when I started to think I didn’t like this movie, the ending came and I was pleased. Seeing old father Ashen being maneuvered as the perfect puppet in his wheelchair was pretty amusing, and I’ll even admit that I didn’t see it coming, even though every sign was pointing to it. So, this one was worth watching. Even though I don’t see myself enlisting it in my Halloween film cannon, I feel comfortable saying that I probably should have watched it back when it was released. And just in case James Wan reads this, have no fear. I still think you’re a treasure, and I’m already keeping tabs on the forthcoming Demonic.