Halloween. A time to get together with friends and family to scare the shit out of ourselves. Horror movies are similar beasts to the traditional summer blockbusters. Just think about it. Most of them are generally not good, and the ones that are good usually work wonders on an audience. Usually. On occasion, a great little horror movie falls under the radar. No, I’m not talking about Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I’m talking about James Wan’s underrated cult classic, Dead Silence.
Before James Wan reclaimed his throne as the king of modern horror with Insidious and The Conjuring and after his time starting a cash cow of a horror franchise with Saw, Wan took time to make a smaller type of horror film. Dead Silence has no interest in being a big jump scare fest or torture porn. It’s an old school ghost story with a really chilling horror atmosphere.
Our story follows Ryan Kwanten as Jamie Ashen and his wife Lisa, played by Laura Regan, when a mysterious package arrives at their door. In the unmarked package lies a ventriloquist doll named Billy. Later that night, Lisa is killed by having her tongue ripped out and Jamie is the prime suspect in her murder. In an attempt to clear his name, Jaimie ends up in his hometown and begins to learn about the mysterious origins of the doll. One thing to remember is that these dolls aren’t like Chucky. They won’t chase anyone down a hallway with a butcher’s knife. Wan’s direction with Leigh Whannell’s screenplay is more attentive than that. The atmosphere is what sets the scare precedent.
When Jaime returns to his hometown of Raven’s Fair (attentiveness over subtlety) everything is drenched in fog. It’s never sunny. The melancholy tone permeates every street from the motel to the morgue. It feels otherworldly and resembles European horror films more than any traditional American ghost stories. Where the movie differs more from traditional American horror is the surprisingly effective comedic relief in Donnie Wahlberg’s Detective Jim Lipton. He’s constantly a thorn in Jason’s side during his investigation. He even rents a room next door to Jaimie just to show that he’s not going to lay off him anytime soon. The horror elements of this ghost story work wonders for me given how silly doll horror stories usually are but I’m always surprised that my favorite parts of the film always involve Lipton’s character. Donnie Wahlberg doesn’t play him as a cartoon so that probably helps. The only way to improve the Lipton character is to have him say, “Hey, Billy, say hi to your mother for me.” There’s comedy but it’s still tonally consistent once the mystery unravels and the scares start hitting.
Dead Silence is a slow burn ghost story but when the scares hit, boy do they hit. It’s only an hour and a half long but the movie takes its time revealing the mystery at play in Raven’s Fair (Best name ever for a creepy town). Charlie Clouser’s score only accentuates the overbearing creepiness of the film. It sounds slightly similar to some strings from the Saw films. Speaking of which, keep an eye out for Jigsaw’s puppet. He originally had a supporting role but had to back out due to commitments to the Saw franchise. Instead he had a blink and miss it cameo. The dolls themselves are so creepily designed that I can’t imagine any sane person would think these would work in an actual ventriloquist show. Just look at the clown up above this paragraph. I don’t see how an entire town of people would be interested in watching a show about two of the scariest horror creatures in existence. Clown dolls are almost as bad as clown zombies!
It doesn’t change the game for horror movies but for your Halloween movie nights, Dead Silence is infinitely better than the majority of horror films on the Netflix queue. Watch this one with a large group of friends and an unlimited supply of popcorn.
Forget Child’s Play, for me, it’s all about the dolls of Mary Shaw.