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…
Directed By: James Wan
Feature Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valetta, Donnie Wahlberg
Looking back on Dead Silence, there are so many things to appreciate. In what was James Wan’s follow up to the smashing success of Saw, we saw bits and pieces of what has made Wan a must-watch director in the genre. The story follows Jamie Ashen (Kwanten) as he tries to understand the dark history behind a ventriloquist dummy that showed up on his doorstep.
The opening credits paint a very clear picture of the films intentions. We see drawings, diagrams, measurements, and calculations dedicated to the creation of “the perfect doll”. As the credits wrap up, Jamie and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) receive an unmarked package while home at their apartment – containing a ventriloquist dummy named Billy. The sight of Billy triggers the memory of an old poem Jamie knew from his childhood. “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”. What follows is a race to uncover the dark secrets and mystery held within the doll before Jamie becomes its next victim.
Dead Silence derives its name from a very unique sound device used throughout the film. Creating horrifying atmosphere through the use of sound is incredibly important in the horror genre. Being able to create your own rules through the use of sound is down right beautiful. During some of the most intense moments, time slows down as all sound in the immediate area vanishes – creating the perfect atmosphere for jump scares, attacks, and all around building of suspense. This film creates an interesting narrative between Silence is Golden vs. Silence is Deadly. These two ideas may seem like counter-competing, until you realize that abiding by both will put you in danger.
Although critically lambasted, Dead Silence has its fans – scoring 6.2 on IMDB. To give credence to the critics, there are a couple of problems in this film. The acting can feel incredibly wooden (it is difficult to discern if this was a character issue or a writing issue). The dialogue between Jamie and Detective Lipton (Donnie Whalberg) was unintentionally comedic. For some reason Detective Lipton felt the need to shave with an electric razor all the time. He was shaving while giving an interrogation. He shaved while walking to and from his car. He had an interest in Billy’s smooth skin. This awkward plotline did nothing for the film and only made for awkwardly funny moments in what should have been very intense scenes. Jamie was very quick to understand the “rules” of the movie, but his actions were oftentimes inexplicable. Even with awkward characters and some stiff acting, the story and premise are very intriguing and drive the movie forward.
One of the more interesting things about this movie now that James Wan is such a success in the genre is looking for parts of his current films that show up in Dead Silence. For starters, James Wan definitely loves using dolls. The opening scene feels eerily similar to the opening scene in The Conjuring where we are introduced to Annabelle. The facial structure of Billy is closely aligned with Annabelle, and the mannerisms mimic those of Annabelle. Heck, even Jigsaw from Saw had a doll like face that felt like it could have belonged in this movie. There is a depiction of a monster whose features are also prominent in the nun from The Conjuring 2 and the Old Woman from Insidious.
Although Dead Silence misses the mark on some of what it attempts to do, the overlying story is a good one and a very worthwhile watch. Current day Wan fans will have a lot of fun making connections between his most popular films and Dead Silence. This is a movie best watched with a group of people where it’s ok to laugh at the silliness of the acting, but one whose story line is captivating enough to keep you interested until the final moments.