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Old 06-14-2007, 08:30 AM
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Default Dead Silence



Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: June 14, 2007

Released by: Universal
Release date: 06/26/2007
MSRP: $29.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes



inline ImageI feel bad for the current generation. When I was a teenager we got retreads of Scream. Fair enough. The generation before me got retreads of Halloween. Awesome. And the generation before that? Retreads of the classic monster movies through Hammer and Universal. What do the kids get today? Retreads of Saw. That alone seems ironic, since Saw is basically a retread of Se7en. But so it is, and now audiences get their Turistas, their Hostels and their Captivitys. In a generation where sequels to remakes are becoming the norm, it seems only fitting that the tent pole horror film itself be derivative of a better work.

So if Saw is the voice of the new generation, then what do the singers have to say now? Saw writers James Wan and Leigh Whannell leave the sequels in better hands, instead embark on a new concept to franchise: the killer ventriloquist doll. What’s that you say? There’s already a film like that called Magic? Don’t worry, Saw proved the duo hasn’t seen a film before 1980, so plagiarism shouldn’t be an issue. So was Saw a modest jumping off point for these two icons of modern horror, with Dead Silence a fascinating demonstration of artistic growth? Or has James Wan reached once again into our ass to puppet another steaming horror pile?


The Story

inline ImageWe enter in on our protagonist through a sink drain, much like that iconic shot in Psycho. Again though, given the Wan-nnell school of horror, that shot was more than likely lifted from Van Sant’s remake. Jamie (Cary Elwes doppelganger, Ryan Kwanten) and Ella Ashen (Amber Valletta) are fixing the sink, enjoying that witty, scripted banter that young, big-city couples have been spouting since Melrose Place. The doorbell rings, and mysteriously a large ventriloquist doll is left in Jamie’s name. Ella begins to recite a cautionary nursery rhyme about the doll, but leaves out just enough so that can be milked for the second act. Jamie goes to get take out, and Ella gets her tongue taken out by the doll. She’s dead, and Jamie’s devastated, so he decides to go back to his home town to investigate the lore surrounding the abominable Mary Shaw.

inline ImageSee (Saw?), Mary was once a popular ventriloquist in this now Silent Hill-esque rundown city. She was a scary figure, and like any folklore woman of power, she was hunted down and murdered by a number of the townspeople. This is a secret they’ve had to bear for years, but it isn’t one that’s remained dead. She’s returned from the dead in various forms, often in the guise of dolls, murdering any descendants of the people who brought her death in the first place. It’s familiar, I know, but I checked the street signs, and there was no Elm Street.

inline ImageJamie hasn’t been home in years, and thusly wonders how he, and especially his wife, would be tied into such a horrible curse. Detective Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) is equally confused, since he’s on an investigation for a missing ventriloquist doll. Nothing seems right in Jamie’s little town, from his stilted father, Edward (Bob Gunton), to the rundown theater, (grand) Guignol, where Mary used to conduct her acts. Solving the mystery is only one twist ending away.

inline ImageNo matter how terrible, and how detrimental Saw was to the horror genre, at least at its heart it had a test of morals that gave the story some relevance. Here, the Wan-nnell aims to elicit “old fashioned ghost stories”, although I’d venture to guess their conception of old fashioned is R.L. Stein. The old Universal logo annoyingly introduces the film, but there’s not a lick here that could remotely be deemed old fashioned, classical or interesting. Perhaps old fashioned to them means ripping off other movies, I don’t know. What we get is basically A Nightmare on Elm Street, from the vigilante lynching that makes our antagonist forever supernatural, and to the lame nursery rhyme that gives the killer life. At least Freddy’s verse rhymed, whereas here we get non-sensical prose like “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw, she has no children, only dolls.”

inline ImageWhen you think “old fashioned”, you think long takes, subtlety and a whole lack of obvious shocks. Here we are treated to that same quick cut crap that made Saw almost unbearable, and that’s not even the worst part. Every death is shown in graphic detail, leaving nothing to the imagination, including the director’s. Each death is the same, with the head of the victimized contorted into some J-horror screaming facial sculpture. Just when you thought The Grudge had finally gone to rest, here comes the fallout. There’s no shocks from the get-go, either, since the dummy is basically just a franchising of their previously bankable Saw-piece of a laughing dummy entering on a bicycle, which itself was a lifting from Argento in Deep Red. You see dollar signs in his eyes, not the face of fear.

inline ImageWhile I hate to pay Saw any sort of credit, at least it had the benefit of urgency. It was timely, something born of the torture videos to offshoot from America’s stay in Iraq. With Dead Silence, we get a story that has been told in countless ways before, and without all that pseudo-pretentious construction. Probably the most grating thing of all of Wan’s work is that he conducts himself like some sort of mastermind original, oblivious to the fact that he knows not a lick about horror or about film culture in general. He probably still doesn’t even know that his upcoming Death Sentence is a remake of Death Wish. Next he’ll be telling us he’s making an original film about a boy who drowned at summer camp while the counselors were fornicating. The horror genre went down with him.


Image Quality

Remember when John Carpenter used to command the scope aspect ratio? Proof that even your grandmother can shoot 2.35, Dead Silence comes in scope and in 16x9. The image transfer here by Universal is pretty perfect, very rich blacks and not a speck to be found. Colors look incredibly saturated, and sharpness is good, if not quite pin sharp. Still, the video transfer here is the least of your worries with this disc.

Sound

The only track is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and while it has some moments of pomposity, it is relatively restrained. Wan tries desperately to develop atmosphere through dripping taps and creaking doors, so there’s a lot of distinctive sounds (remember, this is “old fashioned”). When he realizes he can’t hack it, he turns up the base and throws in those loud nu-metal stingers. There are only a couple moments of discreet use of the rear surrounds, and otherwise things remain generically chained to the front. Everything sounds clean and clear, but inspired it isn’t.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageMy heart leaped when I realized that another no-name goth-rock video would be included on Dead Silence. The sole highlight of reviewing the original Saw disc was the unbefuckinglievable “Bite the Hand that Bleeds You” music video by some Ron Jeremy-looking drummer on a green screen. Although Aiden’s “We Sleep Forever” video here initially promises the same sort of intrigue, it’s really just Fallout Boy cut to digitally aged shots of the film. Ho hum, like the film and the rest of the supplements included here.

inline ImageThe DVD is unrated, featuring around a minute of extra material. I did not have the displeasure of seeing the film theatrically, so questions remain where that extra minute adds up. It certainly isn’t in gore, since there’s hardly any to begin with. The back of the DVD says it is “more gruesome and horrifying than anything seen in theaters”, so maybe nobody actually died in the theatrical cut. I don’t know, this is so tame the scariest thing is a man getting a wet willie with an elongated tongue.

There’s an alternate opening, which basically sets up the whole ghost story like Carpenter did so much better with The Fog. Yep, even the deleted scenes are derivative. The alternate ending has a little more exposition, but is about as inconsequential as the lame-twist finale included in the film. There are a few deleted scenes too, but a bunch of placeholders for effects and missing dialogue bits, they are not worth checking out at all, especially since their scenes are so uninteresting to begin with.

inline ImageThe disc is rounded off with a bunch of featurettes of the generic EPK kind. In the most pretentious bit of supplemental work to date, James Wan “hushes” the viewer as the screen fades to black at the end of the making-of. We also get the gem that the production designer was trying to channel “Tim Burton by way of James Wan”. That’s art? The 12-minute making-of describes the impetus of the film with Whannell and Wan showing how little they really know about anything, and some of the producers and higher ups to give them all a collective pat on the back. The 7-minute “Mary Shaw’s Secrets” describes the creation of the fake urban legend without ever once giving Krueger his props. The last “Evolution of a Visual FX” (does that even make grammatical sense?) is a 4-minute comparison of an effects shot from pre-to-post. Considering the scene in question, a deconstruction of the end credit scroll would probably produce more interest. I’ll never get those 40-minutes back.


Final Thoughts

Argento drew upon Hitchcock. James Wan? R.L. Stein. Dead Silence is about as adult and inspired as “Night of the Living Dummy”, with an unknowingly derivative script, amateur stylistic techniques and a total lack of scares, gore or any of the other horror goodness. It is said wars start from an unawareness of the political history that happened before them. James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s systematic destruction of the horror genre is happening similarly because their total ignorance to film history has led them to downgrade already tired horror clichés. The audio and video are big studio beautiful, and the supplements are big studio whitewash. Even worse than Saw, Dead Silence should stay that way.

Rating

Movie - D
Image Quality - A
Sound - B
Supplements - C+


Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 31 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

Supplements
  • Deleted scenes
  • Alternate ending
  • Alternate opening
  • Visual FX breakdown
  • Making-of featurette
  • Mary Shaw's Secrets featurette
  • Music video

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Old 06-25-2007, 05:12 PM
Satan is Our Pal
I was looking forward to renting this for laughs. I love them puppet killers. "Puppets! Puppets are after me!" After reading this review, I'll pass. Maybe.
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Quote:
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Well as the video explains, I do not think it is a great film, nor do I think.
 
 
Old 06-28-2007, 05:26 AM
I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it in theatres.
 
 
Old 06-30-2007, 04:23 AM
Victim
Wow. Your reviews are always a pleasure to read, but I couldn't disagree more this time around.

While I hate the fact that I'll never get back the time I wasted on Saw, I still felt compelled to watch this one tonight on DVD, and I was pleasantly surprised. Great? Well, no...far from it. I may be biased, since ventriloquist dolls in and of themselves disturb me to begin with, but I found this to be a fairly creepy chiller. There are several scenes that walk that ultra-fine line between scary and silly, and the movie never completely crosses it. Wan managed that balancing act pretty well...quite possibly despite the fact that he doesn't know such a line exists.

I do agree that there's very little in the way of originality here; Shaw is basically a female Freddy. However, as far as rip-offs go, I found this to be a fun diversion. And at a time where films like Saw, Hostel, and Turistas drain the fun from horror, it's just what I was looking for.
 
 
Old 08-07-2007, 07:03 PM
Helena Harper
I hated the fuck out of this movie. I actually fell asleep. It ruined my Saturday night. I actually like the Saw movies but even so, somehow I was skeptical that this one would be anything comparible aside from the creepy dummy.

Rarely do I agree with any review Rhett puts forth, but in this case he's hit the nail on the head.

This bullshit here:

would also make my blood boil and knowing this loser is where Saw came from makes me like it slightly less.
 
 

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