Stan Classics: Review of “Dead Silence”

(This was originally published March 17, 2012 on the former WIMZ website)

“Beware the stare of Mary Shaw.  She had no children, only dolls.  And if you see her, do not scream.  Or she’ll rip your tongue out at the seam.”

This is the poem used to sell the new horror film from the writer and director of “Saw.”  But it should have gone more like this:  Beware the stare of Mary Shaw.  She had no children, only dolls.  This movie is her story told.  But it’s not scary and quickly grows old.

“Dead Silence” tells the story of Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his effort to find out who killed his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) by ripping her tongue out.  His search takes him back to his home town of Ravens Fair where entire families have been killed over several decades in the same way.  The main suspect is the ghost of a long-dead ventriloquist, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) who had her tongue cut out and was killed after she was suspected in the disappearance of a young boy.  But police detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) thinks Jamie killed his wife and follows him to Ravens Fair to prove it.

Here’s how bad “Dead Silence” is.  The best performance in the film is by Donnie Wahlberg.  Now, Wahlberg is a good actor and has been in several TV shows and films (he was the crazy patient that shoots Bruce Willis at the beginning of “The Sixth Sense”), but here, his Detective Lipton is the most thought out, best written part in the movie and he’s a secondary player.  The rest of the films’ protagonists are stock characters from any horror/suspense/thriller of the last 10 years who make the same bad decisions made by every scary movie victim.  And the biggest sin of “Dead Silence” is that it’s not scary.  There are two types of fear a movie can create.  First there’s the sustained tension of wondering if the bad guy is around the next corner or will catch the character being chased.  The second type is what I call the “BOO” moment, when a sudden event causes you to jump in your chair.  “Dead Silence” has only one “BOO” moment early on and no sustained tension.  Despite a twist at the end that I should have seen coming, “Dead Silence” fails to live up to its pedigree.

“Dead Silence” is rated R for horror violence and images.  There isn’t that much blood, other than a woman spitting up a large quantity of it.  We see Mary Shaw’s body after the mortician has fulfilled her wishes to be turned into a life size doll and the effects of having ones tongue ripped out of ones mouth.  While somewhat gruesome, there’s nothing too extreme in the film visually.

James Wan is the man behind the “Saw” movies.  He directed the first one and produced the last two.  Those films have so far have displayed a level of imagination and creativity that is obviously lacking in “Dead Silence.”  Mr. Wan would be better served to apply the same effort to all of his projects in the future.  And scary movie fans should save their money and rent “Psycho” or “The Exorcist” or “The Sixth Sense.”

“Dead Silence” gets one star out of five.

See my review of Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

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