On the twenty-second day of Halloween, another fucked-up doll movie by James Wan gave to me: Dead Silence (James Wan, 2007)
So, I somehow accidentally ended up reviewing another James Wan film. I didn’t realize it was a Wan movie at first, but I quickly realized it looked and felt kind of familiar.
I mean, it isn’t like I’m mad or anything. As we’ve already established, James Wan makes Good Shit (c). And in a thrilling turnabout, Wan’s Dead Silence brings us creepy ghost story with another fucking godawful doll.
I watched this at home alone.
I hope you’re happy.
Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) must confront his family’s past after his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) mysteriously dies after a creepy ventriloquist’s doll is delivered with no warning. Remembering an old rhyme from his home town of Ravens Fair, Jamie returns to his birthplace, trying to pursue the myth of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts). Mary Shaw, a elderly spinster ventriloquist, died childless under questionable circumstances, but gave birth to a legend. As Jamie dives deeper into the mystery of Ravens Fair, he begins to realize that his town is hiding a secret bigger than he could imagine: and this secret is coming for him next.
This movie is like Once Upon a Time for ventriloquists.
But instead of the beautiful Storybrooke, it’s the depressed, gloomy village of Ravens Fair. There’s a curse involved, and everything is stylized to the point that it looks like It came out of a children’s book. There’s no tasteful restraint or sense of realism: dark, richly-appointed mansions are constantly foggy and lit by moonlight, abandoned theaters loom in the distance, and gravestones sit askew in ivy-covered graveyards. And in what must be a meteorological anomaly, it always seems to be stormy in Ravens Fair. Go figure.
I’m not complaining by any means. While a sense of sparseness can do a lot for horror movies, it’s also really fun to see a movie that gives Burton a run for his money. It’s atmospheric and visually luxurious, so I’m into that.
It’s pretty basic
This is like a Lifetime movie, but one made to kill your soul, as opposed to warming it. Dead Silence is pretty stereotypical in a lot of ways. Tragedy-struck man returning to a cursed hometown? Family secrets? A town’s shame? Creepy childhood rhymes? Mysterious unmarked packages? You get what I’m saying. Dead Silence is a basic set up and swimming in clichés at some points.
The film characters are also unreasonably comfortable with this fucked-up doll. I mean, I’m usually one of those people who rolls their eyes when folks watching horror movies yell shit like “don’t go in there, lololol omg so stupid haha.” But I honestly cannot understand the logic behind Jamie and Lisa bringing that fucking doll into their house without literally an ounce of trepidation.
For reference, the doll looks like this:
Let’s break down the opening of the film.
Jamie and Lisa receive a large, old-paper-and-twine-wrapped package with no return address, delivered by unseen hands.T
Yeah, does that not seem weird to anyone? Like, anything wrapped in mysteriously stained paper and string is fucking bound to be not something you want in your life.
Slap some Amazon Prime tape on a box, and then I’ll bite.
At any rate, whatever’s in a package that looks like it came from an old-timey butcher is going to be either a loved one’s body parts or a haunted object.
Which is, of course, exactly what is in the package. Jamie and Lisa open this package and find a fucking creepy ventriloquist doll in an elaborate trunk. AND THEY DON’T EVEN BLINK. They’re just like, “this is fine, and in no way creepy!” They joke with it! They sit it up, and Lisa even tries to scare Jamie with it! There is not a single iota of fear, or even worry. They don’t question that someone unknown knew their address and then sent them a fucked-up doll. They don’t shuffle it into a closet, call someone, or even hide it.
Listen, if you aren’t afraid of ventriloquist dolls you’re either a fucking liar or a ventriloquist, and I don’t trust you either way.
I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND.
Childless old women with hobbies: the true boogeyman
So while I think there are some weak spots in Dead Silence, this movie is still Scary As Shit, and a really great watch. Of course, it isn’t hard to make a movie centered around a haunted ventriloquist dummy scary, because that is literally the scariest thing on the face of the planet. Of course, Dead Silence features 101 dummies, because fuck your sleep schedule! I mean, 5 would have been excessive in my book.
The crew of Dead Silence had to buy/create/find 101 pants-shittingly creepy looking dolls, and that’s a task that no one should ever have to complete. There are even bodies that have been mutilated to look like dolls, because if you’re not going the extra mile to scar your audience, are you really in a James Wan movie? I mean, the crew did a fantastic job with the dolls and props.
I just keep them in my prayers.
But beyond a doll that gave Annabelle a run for her money, Dead Silence is fundamentally a ghost story, and features the spectre of Mary Shaw as the primary actor. It’s when I first saw Mary that I was like, “Yeah, I guess this really is a Wan movie.” Like I discussed in my review of The Conjuring, all of Wan’s ghosts look very particular. They’re played by physical people, and are decked out in basically the same makeup. They’ve got soul-piercing eyes, dead, grey skin, visibly dark veins, grody fingernails, and are usually old women. Mary Shaw is no different. But honestly I don’t mind, because Wan’s formula works, and has a distinctly horrifying look that does a lot for me.
I also really love the use of silence in Dead Silence, which I should have predicted, in retrospect. Each burst of paranormal activity is accompanied by a complete, numbing cocoon of silence. I’ve ranted about the use of aural cues in horror before, but this one that I thought was really unique. Scares are usually preceded by music or sound, whereas it’s the exact opposite in Dead Silence. It’s fresh and creepy in its own way, and a great touch to the film.
Only real warning I can think of is fucking dolls and general gore, so take that as you will.
I only have one more ghost movie left to review so pray for me
Dead Silence is a visually delicious movie that preys on (legit everyone’s) fear of haunted dolls, and does so with guts. In some ways it’s a predictably twisty family-curse drama, and isn’t terribly groundbreaking in that respect. It’s definitely on the early side of Wan’s work, but it shows some of the same instincts that he honed in his later works. Dead Silence is good, soul-crushing fare for all, and I’d highly recommend it for a spooky night in.
Just like, promise me that if a strange box anonymously arrives on your doorstep that you will call a religious expert of your choosing to dispose of it.
Or a bomb squad.
Featured image source: http://www.impawards.com/2007/dead_silence.html
Billy, the fucking soul-sucking doll: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/94294185921215311/