Watching some scenes in James Wan’s Dead Silence, I felt like a tarantula was slowly crawling down the front of my trousers. Like getting molested by some sinister circus freak, cold shivers twisted my body like my privates were hooked up to a live car battery. Dead Silence showcases Wan and writer Leigh Whannell’s fondness for dastardly dolls and pernicious puppets. Did these two dudes grow up watching Wayland and Madame on The Hollywood Squares, realizing that the creepy old dummy was the mouthpiece of Satan? I’m talking about Madame, by the way.
I did. Coca Cola and crucifixes were my friends in front of the television.
Dead Silence is a nice throwback to one of those old Twilight Zone episodes that gave many a child sleepless nights as they nervously stared at the toys on the shelves of the dark closet. Did that toy monkey just move on its own, or was it just the shadows from the headlights of a passing car? Are your Kenner Star Wars figures about to launch an offensive on you under orders from a dark lord more frightening than Darth Vader? Pray mommy and daddy don’t mind you climbing into bed with them. You’re pushing fifteen, kid. Hopefully, daddy chugged too many beers and doesn’t want to get close to your lovely mum. Mother has never lost the weight since she pushed your worthless ass out into the world. Tough to blame the old man for trying to dull the pain with a few Schlitz.
This horror flick is easy like Sunday morning at the funeral parlor. It’s straightforward, professionally done and has the stench of death on it. Everything you need for a successful wake. Make sure the body looks presentable, spit shine the coffin, and get the sobbing relatives out of there as quickly as possible. If it is my family, please make sure we take the empty keg and whiskey flasks with us before we stumble to the bar, then to the cemetery and back to the bar again. I usually always feel like one of the deceased the day after burying one of my relatives. Which is fine because many of them are more tolerable dead than they ever were alive.
Dead Silence opens with Jamie Ashen(Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa(Laura Regan) enjoying the fact that their sink is leaking and the rain is coming down outside like the IRS did on Wesley Snipes a few years back. That diabolical governmental den of thieves is a worse villain than any fucking horror movie monster, but I digress.
They are young and in love. Who needs a plumber or an umbrella when you have each other? Things take a turn for the surreal when they receive a predictably mysterious package. The couple open it up to find it is a creepy ventriloquist dummy. With its menacing jowls, slicked back hair and little boy tuxedo, you would think they would carry it to the incinerator and torch it until there was nothing left but white ash and a quickly fading feeling of dread. By law, every apartment building in horror movies must have a furnace with hellfire licking its cast iron sides.
However, it wouldn’t be much of a horror flick if that happened.
Jamie goes out to pick up chinese food and leaves the young wife alone with the dummy, Billy. It doesn’t end well for Lisa. Jamie comes home and finds someone has turned his bride into chop suey. He is devastated. She was quite hot, after all. I am not saying a beautiful wife is worth more than a frumpy one. However, would you rather have your ’98 Ford Taurus smashed up, or the brand new BMW you just purchased, using money “borrowed” from junior’s college fund? Let’s be real, folks. Ebola has a better survival rate than gorgeous gals in horror movies. Dour feminists can hate until their Birkenstocks burst into flames, but they don’t usually get offed in flicks like this.
Jaimie instantly comes under the suspicions of wise-ass, walking cop cliche’, Detective Lipton, who is played by Marky Mark’s older brother. With his ill fitting Inspector Clouseau trench coat, rumpled face that sports such tenacious stubble that it needs constant buzzing from the electric razor he carries next to his gun, Donnie Wahlberg gets to have more fun than a busload of thirteen year old girls at a New Kids on the Block concert. The rest of the cast, however, has to act like they believe all this sinister supernatural shit going down is actually happening. Let’s not feel too bad for these Hollywood types. They could always get real jobs like the rest of us.
Jamie heads home to bury his wife’s carcass in their childhood home of Raven’s Fair. You have to love that name. Only in a horror movie or cheesy soap opera would you see such a moniker slapped on a town. It is about as subtle as a locomotive plowing into a truck filled with handicapped orphans and nitro-glycerin, but it gets the job done. You know there aren’t too many happy residents in a place named Raven’s Fair.
Our young protagonist stops by the sprawling estate where he spent his warped childhood. This fucking crib is as big as the Museum of Natural History in New York City and it probably has more cold drafts and dark secrets than the decaying subway systems of the mushy Big Apple. Jamie is there to see his very sick father, played by Bob Gunton. Gunton excels at playing authoritarian douchebags who seem to be strung out on caffeine and irritable vainglory. People probably spit on this dude’s food in restaurants and refuse to give him a seat on public transportation. That is a sign that Gunton is good at his job.
Jaimie pounds on the giant wooden door and is greeted by his wicked stepmother. She is stunningly beautiful and is about the same age as Jaimie. She seems like she might be the type of attractive floozy that shows up in a wealthy dude’s twilight years, does a few lapdances for him as he sits in his wheelchair until he strokes out on the marble floor. She then tiptoes around the pool of dark spittle coming out of his mouth and empties his pockets. She is played efficiently by the gorgeous Amber Valletta. It is little more than an extended cameo, but she has such nice bone structure that she should have been given some kind of award for her role.
Whatever type of ceremonial show you deviants are planning for, please keep it to yourselves. And lock the door, you filthy animals. Some things are best done in isolation. There might be kids playing with evil dolls in the house.
Like a straight razor slicing through a fleshy cheek, Wan and Whannell keep things moving briskly. The plot revolves around the curse from a nefarious old witch of a woman, Mary Shaw, who cast a dark spell over Raven’s Fair upon her death. This is standard horror fare, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective in the right clammy hands. These two know how to conjure up a scary movie. However, one could accuse them of dipping into the same bag of tricks one too many times. It would be nice to see them pilot some new vessels of terror through the dark oceans.
The production design in Dead Silence is top notch. Raven’s Fair, with its desolate streets that have only blowing leaves and a moaning wind as pedestrians, is well realized. Seedy motel rooms with red neon lights blinking in the window, signaling that you are submerged in hell, are a nice touch. Trust me, this degenerate knows a little too much about the motor inns with the crusty sheets and televisions manufactured in 1992, plopped on top of cheap wood dressers. The Gideon’s Bible in the drawer was sometimes blessed with a bullet hole. Finally, The Guignol Theater–where Mary Shaw performed her ventriloquist act before spellbound crowds in the 1940’s–is perfectly portrayed. During flashbacks, we see it in its opulence, with a sinister boil simmering beneath its grand architecture. We observe it in crumbling ruins in the films’s present day.
Dead Silence has a nice little twist at the end. If you’re watching a flick about killer dolls and cursed towns then I am sure you will find it permissible within the reality of the movie. If you saw it coming then you should be writing fucking screenplays and not reading my stupid blog.