I can’t say I ever really thought I’d end up watching Dead Silence, aka that Ventriloquist Dummy movie by the guy who made Saw. I was never really on the Saw train and when I caught Wan’s Kevin Bacon Gets Revenge flick Death Sentence on cable I will admit to more or less writing him off with a “Yep now I know exactly what this guy is capable of.”
Then a funny thing started to happen and Insidious started building a lot of very positive word of mouth, quickly becoming my most anticipated horror movie of 2011. Right on the heels of this I read an interview with Wan where he came off very well and a lot smarter then his films had suggested. Could Dead Silence be hiding a classic behind it’s bizarre concept?
No not really. But it was kind of fun to watch anyway and is currently my favorite James Wan flick. Sure that might be damning it with faint praise, but we take what we can get in this life.
Dead Silence follows a young man who’s wife is murdered by a ventriloquist dummy. Understandably upset, he takes his wife and said dummy to his home town, for the funeral. A town where many years ago a group of townsfolk got their vigilante justice on an old spinster ventriloquist. But lo’ he finds his town sorrowful changed! A mere rundown husk the recession having hit ghost based economies the hardest. He’s pursued by Inspector Donnie Wahlberg who is convinced that our hero murdered his wife. They all meet various puppet related deaths of various ghastlyness.
Here’s the thing I’ve never found doll movies as inherently scary as most people do. I mean sure long shots of motionless dolls are creepy, but once they start moving, something funny happens to my brain and I go “Oh yeah. It’s just a doll.” I quote from Seth Grahame Smith’s How To Survive A Horror Movie.
“Even if you’re 12 years old, you’re probably five to seven times larger then your attacker. Why are you running away with something that could be imprisoned with Legos? Before you resort to the fancy tactics that follow, crack your knuckles step in the ring and take your yarn haired nemesis for a stroll down Pain Lane. Pull its stuffing out. Hold it by the feet and what it’s head against the sidewalk. There’s a reason dolls have to rely on stealth and treachery to kill, they’re not very strong. You on the other hand have the gift of brute force.”
Still Wan tries his best; in the above interview he states how his goal was to make a Mario Bava movie in the American studio system. Given both the material with which he had to work and the renitence of said studio execs, the surprise is not so much that he did not fully succeed, but that he succeeded at all.
Wan revels in the baroque styling. Both in its storytelling (not to give anything away but there is one moment in which I was forced to contemplate if a mortician’s newspaper ad included the line “WE’LL MUTILATE YOUR CORPSE! NO AUGMENTATION TOO GHASTLY! NO CRIME AGAINST GOD TOO GREAT! WE WILL VISIT UNSPEAKABLE PERVERSIONS UPON YOUR BODY AFTER DEATH WITH A LOW DOWN PAYMENT AND NO QUESTIONS ASKED!!!!) and visual style. Unlike Saw and Death Sentence which where both pointedly, purposefully ugly movies, Dead Silence is a downright pretty movie to look at, with some impressively gothic sets and design, and a real visual imagination behind the camera.
All in all I’m kind of surprised by just how much I liked Dead Silence. It’s not a great movie, or a great horror movie, but it’s a surprising amount of fun and I can’t help but admire how utterly go for broke it is. Here’s hoping that Insidious will deliver a great deal more.