Horror maestros James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s other creepy puppet has become a cult favorite after flopping in theaters
Dead Silence is a curious entry in the collaboration between James Wan and Leigh Whannell. It’s the ugly ducking of their resumes, combining the grotesqueries and whodunit storytelling of Saw with the supernatural creepiness they would later perfect with the Insidious and The Conjuring series. Dead Silence isn’t particularly successful at anything it attempts, but it’s become a curio in light of the career heights Wan and Whannell have reached. On the occasion of the film’s new 4K Ultra HD release, I hopped on the chance to watch the film again and see how it plays today.
For those that haven’t seen Dead Silence, it follows a young man who, in the aftermath of his wife’s untimely and horrific death, he returns to his hometown to investigate the legend of Mary Shaw, an old ventriloquist. That’s freaky enough on its own, before factoring in Mary’s death and her wish to be turned into a dummy upon leaving this mortal coil. Of course, Mary’s death wasn’t the last people heard of her. Legend has it that she seeks revenge against the bloodlines of the people who killed her.
Dead Silence is a mostly silly film, but knowingly so. Look no further than Donnie Wahlberg’s character Detective Lipton. He sports a permanent five o’clock shadow and his defining character trait is that he’s constantly running an electric razor over his scruff. The shaving proves to be as ineffective and Lipton’s detective skills, as neither pursuit brings him closer to a clean shave or solving the murder of Lisa Ashen (Laura Regan). For Jaime Ashen (Ryan Kwanten), that means he must battle his grief, Lipton’s suspicions, and his family’s dark history. Kwanten plays Jamie with an amusing “what else is next” exasperation that proves endearing. In a movie full of silliness, Jamie is the unfortunate straight man and has to play everything down the middle while everyone else cuts loose.
I fear I may have made a mistake by taking this long to mention Billy, the evil dummy whose arrival at Jamie and Laura’s doorstep kicks off this unholy affair. Billy is also the literal poster boy for the movie. The ratio of dummy-related hijinks to supernatural chills is tilted too far in favor of the latter. Considering that this movie comes from the team behind Saw, the comparative restraint in Dead Silence keeps the film from being as entertaining as it could be. As it stands, Dead Silence has too many dull stretches dedicated to building out the Mary Shaw mythology. Like Saw before it, Wan and Whannell build to a twist that re-contextualizes what came before it, but it’s less effective this time around.
Whannell and Wan have been two of the biggest voices in mainstream horror since Saw put them on the map nearly 20 years ago, and that’s made the misfire of Dead Silence stand out even more. Shout! Factory has given Dead Silence a very solid 4K UHD release. The film looks and sounds spectacular, a higher quality upgrade than you’d assume a widely dismissed film like this might garner. Included with the pack is a Blu-ray disc featuring the film’s theatrical and unrated cuts (only the theatrical version is on the 4K disc), plus a slew of old features ported over from prior releases. The new features are fun and informative interviews with Whannell, Wan, and the man who made the Billy dummy Tim Selberg. All three are interviews are worth checking out, but Whannell’s is the best of the bunch. He covers a lot of ground, from anecdotes about Dead Silence to a recollection of his partnership with James Wan. After spending more time with the movie over the last few days I’ve warmed up to a bit, but still think it’s more of a curio than anything else. Fans of the film will certainly enjoy this release.
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