Inspired by classic eerie horror masterpieces, the idea for a ventriloquist murderer was born relatively fast. By displaying elements in a modern way, that made old horror films original, should bring the house down. Right? What could go wrong? Well, James Wan (director, Saw) and Leigh Whannell (scriptwriter, Insidious) asked that question before they even put the first word down on paper. After shooting wrapped up, both confessed that, it was a giant mistake to do this piece of ‘entertainment’. The executives had their both elbows deep inside the material and butchered the sweetness away. In this godforsaken unit, JAMIE ASHEN (Ryan Kwanten) comes back to his hometown to search for his wife’s murderer, but fails miserably, as expected. Expected were also all kinds of twists and turns, so that James and Leigh’s brilliant idea can spawn a new franchise. However, looking at the overall product, you can’t but notice how the film falls flat on his face. The only thing you can enjoy is the atmosphere it offers. It really captures glimpses of old masterpieces for a second or two, but enough of the pillow talk; let us take a deeper look at the structure of this scare flick.
STRUCTURE OF THE FILM
- ESTABLISHING THE GOAL: JAMIE has to find the killer of his wife.
- CONFLICT: The ghost of MARY SHAW appears and he has to deal with her.
- DISSAPOINTMENT: Well…he doesn’t seem to be dissapointed…at all.
- REACTION: He goes investigating by himself.
- DILEMA: Nope. No dilema here. He is stubborn and he does what he wants.
- DECISION: He calls the spirit out, to have a showdown, so he can stop the curse. He asked. He fought. He lost.
The basic concept of a structure is missing here, so the whole movie left the audience with a bad taste in their mouths. The Producers doctored on the screenplay and created this wreck. The audience mostly had no clue why is what happening and they tried at least, to enjoy the dark atmosphere. In James Wan’s defence, he tried to revive the old horrors from back in the day.
JAMIE ASHEN’S CHARACTER
He lost the brainless but destined love of his wife, due to her pointless curiosity. After her death, he goes on a revenge trip to find her killer. His character should be devastated from the loss and with a clouded mind make mistakes with every step he undertakes, but we all see that’s not happening. He seems superficial and uninterested, a miscast for sure. He has only one scene where his grief comes to the surface and it lefts everyone cold. His character doesn’t change and the loss doesn’t affect his life at all. He won’t improve the relationship with his father, nor his new mother. The actor plays the main role, dammit; he should be able to change during the movie. With the emotions intact, he makes only one wrong move. The decision to go to his hometown and that cost him his life.
DETECTIVE LIPTON’S CHARACTER
LIPTON (Donnie Wahlberg) has a name like a Scotland Yard kind of super agent, but he couldn’t be further from it. He is the one accusing JAMIE of killing his wife. He follows JAMIE around and tries to catch him in the act, so he can throw him into jail. Donnie completely messed up in defining his character. Detectives should investigate and through collecting evidence catch criminals. This one, well, he doesn’t think that is necessary. Purely relying on instincts, he thinks he got the right hunch, when he accuses the innocent wife loser. In the end, the joke’s on him and he loses his life. Har-har. His character is infantile, unreliable and unprofessional, because he follows JAMIE to Raven’s fair, and that is out of his range of power. He wants to bust JAMIE, without the authority to do so. In addition, he acts as a gravedigger without permission and that my friends, is a felony. Protocols are overrated, it seems. His role should have been that of a mentor for JAMIE. He should have been the guy who is the only one that believes in JAMIE’S story about a puppet that killed his wife. However, this detective is hardcore, even seconds before his death he can’t process what’s happening. It’s funny, because JAMIE told him three times what’s going on.
MARY SHAW’S CHARACTER
MARY SHAW (Judith Roberts) is a ventriloquist that gets murdered and comes back as a ghost to get even with her killers. She appears five times. That is not even remotely enough for a movie like this. She ain’t no Xenomorph. She should appear every five minutes like Freddy, but no, the main star, has to be hidden, apparently. And did you notice that her character, when still alive, wasn’t even dangerous for anyone? Her killers accused her for something without proof and because she had an intense entertainment show, she’s been killed.
As a ghost, she isn’t that scary, because the filmmakers don’t show you the way how she kills people. The audience sees only the result of her revenge, so the emotional connection doesn’t reach the viewer and they become indifferent to the victims. And there are a lot of thing left unsolved. Firstly, how does she get the possibility to return into a doll? In Chucky (1988.) it’s at least explained: through Voodoo. Here is the reason unavailable. Secondly, when was the moment when she created ‘the perfect doll’? Before or after the murder? If it happened before, did she expect to be murdered? If after, how did she managed to construct a doll, as a spirit?
WALKER (Michael Fairman) tells JAMIE, that he doesn’t know who killed MARY SHAW.
WALKER:‘No one ever found out’.
JAMIES Father:’…along with others from raven’s fair.’
Something’s off here. Raven’s fair is a small city and if there is someone being killed, everybody would have heard about it. But nobody seems to give a shit. And the viewer never gets a reason why people hated her so much, to wipe her off the face of the earth.
Throughout the movie, the viewer can feast their eyes on three main colours that are hardcoded in the visual look of the film. Blue, red and white. It is a hidden subliminal way to display the colours of the American flag.
Many effects are repeated two times. The only thing I have to say is, for the lack of a better explanation, it supposed to be a stylistic pattern, but it comes off like they ran out of ideas. They used a bunch of great ideas and realized they need even more, so they casually repeated them.
1. From the drawn map onto the driving live action car transition.
2. When a building is portrayed, the camera glides from top to the bottom. Using this technique cranks up the eeriness.
3. The weird close up of the puppets face, with the good ol’ I-am-alive-by-moving-my-eyes-trick.
4. Two times someone moves a bed sheet away, only to reveal the most horrific thing underneath. What did you expect? Birds, bees and flowers?
5. And for some reason, this staircase is also shown twice in the movie. I guess because it looks nice and sends off this creepy vibe, no practical purpose whatsoever.
The sentence HENRY WALKER says doesn’t make sense.
‘ There are things you remember and
there are things you can’t forget.’
He says the same thing twice, only in a different form. The things you don’t forget are the things you remember. Or how about this gem:
‘If you looking for answers
you just might find some.’
HENRY’S wife MARION is superfluous. Her character didn’t help her husband or was in any way, shape or form relevant to the story. The same happened with the 101 dolls that MARY SHAW is hiding. They don’t serve a specific purpose, besides looking tremendous. In the final battle, they are too easily destroyed, for something that was worth a fortune to build.
It looks like MARY SHAW has a inferiority complex. She asks:
‘Now, who’s the dummy?’
When she held her stage show, the audience yelled how she wasn’t a good ventriloquist, because they saw MARY’S lips move. They attack her talent. Also, when she says ‘dummy’ it can mean two things: dummy as in ‘who is the doll‘ and dummy as in ‘who is stupid‘.
They whole movie consists of rehashes from other movies. If these scenes are meant to be a homage to the influences of the director, then they blew it out of proportions.
1. The intro recalls the intro from Seven (1995.)
2. The poem, which explains the legend of MARY SHAW, has a similar concept as the poem of Freddy Krueger in A nightmare on Elm Street (1984.).
‘BEWARE THE STARE OF MARY SHAW
SHE HAD NO CHILDREN ONLY DOLLS
AND IF YOU SEE HER IN YOUR DREAMS
BE SURE YOU NEVER, EVER SCREAM.’
A nightmare on Elm Street
‘ONE, TWO, FREDDY’S COMING FOR YOU.
THREE, FOUR, BETTER LOCK YOUR DOOR.
FIVE, SIX, GRAB YOUR CRUCIFIX.
SEVEN, EIGHT, GONNA STAY UP LATE.
NINE, TEN, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.’
3. The recognizable doll from the promo poster, looks like the doll in Saw (2004.). Of course, the same director made it. However, when you think about it, it’s a shame. He recycled an old idea. It even has the same name: Billy.
4. The atmosphere of the movie is just like in The Breed (2001.). And they also stole frames from it.
5. Many films with killing dolls exist already, but this one tries to be the evil twin of Dead of Night (1945.). In that movie is a very important scene that takes place in the theatre during a performance. Interesting is, that MARY SHAW’S performance also takes place in the 40’s, in the time of Dead of Night.
6. In Dead Silence JAMIE takes a barge and equipped with a lantern enters a gate to find the spirit of MARY SHAW. In Phantom of the Opera (2004.) the same thing happens with the spirit of Eric.
7. One of the dolls is dressed like a clown and reminds of the killer clown from It (1990.).
8. A theatre called Guignol appears in the movie. A reference to French theatres from the 40’s that ran horror plays.
9. The intro of the movie begins with the classic Universal picture logo from 1930. It’s there on purpose as a hint to the audience, they are about to see a picture with the atmosphere from that time. Artificial fog and light, creaking doors and silent scenes, blood on the floor and the wind whispering through the corridor are old practical effects. Finally, someone remembered to bring those elements back into horror.
WHY DEAD SILENCE WILL NEVER BE A FAIRY TALE
Dead Silence is missing elements that are usually present in fairy tales. A classic intro of a fairy tale begins with a flashback that opens up a retelling of the scary legend in question, in this case it would be about MARY SHAW (like Edward Scissorhands for example). Supernatural manifestations plus vengeful spirit equals supernatural horror and not a fairy tale. Also, the music doesn’t suggest an imaginary world. It is conducted like any other horror score. Symbols are missing too. Dorothy from Wizard of Oz (1939.) had red shoes, as a symbol of emancipation and freedom, but the doll in Dead Silence represents nothing deeper than a container for the spirit to come back to earth, just like in Chucky.
Although a great idea at the beginning of production, the result has nothing new to offer. It has a miscast main actor, a visual style that gets boring and a ghost that isn’t ghostly enough to scare the audience. If this movie is supposed to be a fairy tale, what is the point of the story? What does the movie teach us? What is the main message? Leigh Whannel explained it best:
‘IT’S JUST A LOT OF THINGS WE LOVE, PUT INTO ONE FILM.’