Beware the stare of Mary Shaw; she has wisely hired the director who made Saw.
It has been three years since first time director James Wan had his chance to break into the film industry with his monstrously successful horror flick, Saw, which subsequently spawned an incredibly lucrative franchise. However, one question begs to be asked: where has Wan been since?
At the height of his initial success, when Wan was probably offered every prospective studio horror film under the sun, the director chose to quietly collect money from the Saw franchise while simultaneously working on a second project, collaborating again with Saw writing partner Leigh Whannell. Out of this gestation came Dead Silence, and with it Wan proves that when it comes to the horror genre he is certainly no dummy.
After the brutal death of his wife, widower Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) returns to his hometown of Ravens Fair to explore the mysterious appearance of a ventriloquist doll which arrived just moments before his newlywed’s tongue was ripped out at the seam. Connecting the murder to an urban legend he heard as a child, a rhyme inspired by Mary Shaw, a ventriloquist that the town folk believes inflicts vengeance from the afterlife, Jamie not only catches the attention of this crotchety demonic spirit, but her hundred-and-one creepily designed ventriloquist dolls too.
Infusing the innovative style and transitions of Saw with the feel of a classic Hollywood ghost story, which was cleverly highlighted by the film’s use of the Golden Age Universal Studios introduction, Dead Silence is a fantastic sophomore outing from Wan. What made the original Saw work so well was Wan’s clear cut premise, use claustrophobia to set up an atmosphere that will terrify audiences. Again Wan and Whannell have tapped into another frightening phobia, the sinister side of dummies.
What the creative, splatter duo got right in Saw was the eerie look of the film, and here the sinister, nightmare inducing dolls walk a fine line between disturbingly macabre and all too cute. However terrifying the dolls themselves were, it is Mary Shaw herself who has one of the most ghoulishly effective designs to be introduced to celluloid since Samara terrified American audiences in Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. Part human, part doll, the presence of Shaw is all too scary, and the mark on her victims is all too memorable.
For young filmmakers with a Universal sized budget to play with, Wan and Whannell certainly used their money efficiently. Rather than burning their budget on name actors to sell the film, funds were put into creating incredibly haunting visuals to help sell the concept. Though the performances from Kwanten and veteran Saw II actor Donnie Wahlberg were acceptable for the genre, it is the incredible production design which sets Dead Silence apart from the horror norm. Giant set pieces, such as Mary Shaw’s chilling estate, gave Wan a ghoulish playground to create his innovative scares, escalating the unsettling atmosphere of Dead Silence.
This growth towards the film’s wild third act is entirely necessary, because the conclusion would seem preposterous without the spine-chilling buildup. Though Wan and Whannell have made another stellar horror film, the duo better be cautious; too many more “surprise” endings and the duo could be labeled as the next Shyamalan.
It would seem that the three year hiatus from directing has served James Wan well; Dead Silence is a far more mature and refined horror film than Saw. The departure from the torture/splatter subgenre of horror, moving towards the supernatural was a wise move, one that will certainly silence any of Wan’s critics who fear that Saw was the only tale the director had to tell.
-Joe Russo, MoviePulse