Directed by James Wan
Distributed by Universal Home Video
I admit I didn’t go into Dead Silence hoping for much. Yeah, I was a big fan of Saw and wanted to see if Wan was a one-trick pony or if he could actually pull off an atmospheric and scary horror movie like he’d promised, but I was hesitant to look forward to it too much, which might be why I ended up enjoying it as much as I did.
Dead Silence, to me, is an homage to all the great quiet and creeping horror films that you couldn’t walk out your front door without tripping over a few decades back. Now no one makes them; no one tries to subtly scare the audience throughout their film. Instead every scare has to be bigger and better than the last. There’s something to be said for that, don’t get me wrong, but then a movie like Dead Silence comes along and shows you that there is a different approach we can take to horror and still create something special.
Dead Silence is all about the production design; a quiet little nowhere town is the primary setting, complete with a massive mansion owned by the local eccentric, a creepy graveyard that carries into the woods beyond it, the old time house used as a funeral home and, especially this bit, the grand old theater on an island, in a quarry for God’s sake, now dilapidated but, of course, never torn down. The blue filter used to create subtle, smoky effects is what really brought it all together. This movie just looks really damn good. The story is almost secondary if you ask me, which is a good thing because it does contain a significant amount of plot holes.
For those not familiar with the story (why are you reading this DVD review?), I will encapsulate for you: A young man named Jamie (Kwanten) receives a strange package from his faraway hometown of Raven’s Fair, containing a ventriloquist dummy. Shortly afterwards his new wife dies a horrible death and Jamie decides he has to go back to the quiet little burg for some answers. He learns the full legend of Mary Shaw, a popular ventriloquist who was demonized and lynched by the townspeople when they suspected her of abducting a child decades before Jamie was born. For years she’s been enacting her revenge on the families of anyone responsible for her untimely death, and apparently Jamie is pretty much near the end of that list.
Yes, there are problems with the story and some of the settings, but I don’t think Wan set out to make a movie that was all about the narrative; he wanted something that was beautiful to watch, more so than something that would resonate with viewers. He laid it out very well for just such an experiment, and it worked pretty damn well.
Universal didn’t do a terrible job with the features on this one, which I was kind of surprised about considering how shoddily they treated it on its long, hard road to release (apparently they required a lot of changes that made Wan none too happy); the disc is actually pretty well-stacked.
The part most will be interested in first and foremost is the alternate beginning and ending, both of which were excised for various reasons, the most obvious of which being that the title changed from Silence to Dead Silence. The alternate opening shows a woman telling the story of Mary Shaw to a boy as she tucks him into bed, and the alternate ending goes back to the scene to reveal that it’s actually our hero, Jamie, in bed and not looking too well.
A few deleted scenes focus on a caretaker at Jamie’s father’s estate who had a much bigger role then he did in the final cut (in which he simply opened a gate), and it isn’t clear why that bit of plot was cut save for time issues. Nothing new is revealed there, but I bet the guy whose part was cut is happy about their inclusion.
Then we get into the featurettes, “The Making of Dead Silence” being the most prominent. Clocking in at just under 20 minutes, the editors did a really good job giving an overview of all the elements that went into making the movie without making it feel too EPK-esque, usually a problem with Universal bonuses. “Mary Shaw’s Secrets” focus on the makeup done to actress Judith Roberts and how she got into character, pretty good if not a bit short, and “Evolution of a Visual FX” is just what it sounds like, detailing the elements layered in to create a final shot. Not very exciting and to be honest I’m getting a bit sick of seeing all the elements separated and put together over and over. The magic of CG isn’t really all that magical to me.
Obviously the most glaring exclusion from this disc is a commentary by Wan and/or co-writer Leigh Whannell, but I guess considering how long it took to get out and how many changes were apparently made, that’s understandable. It’s still a solid little disc with some good features on it, and the film itself is well worth your time.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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