‘You scream. You die.’
Dead Silence is a 2007 American horror film about a young widower who returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder; he discovers there could be a link to the ghost of a deceased ventriloquist.
Directed by James Wan (Malignant; Aquaman; The Conjuring; Insidious; Saw) from a screenplay by Leigh Whannell (The Invisible Man; Upgrade; Insidious; Saw) based on a story by Wan and Whannell, the Twisted Pictures-Universal Pictures movie stars Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg and Bob Gunton. Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules and Mark Burg
The soundtrack score was composed by Charlie Clouser (Eye Without a Face; Spiral; The Collection; Saw franchise).
“Tongue in cheek” is the tempting description for this horror potboiler from the minds behind the Saw movies, who took a respite from a modestly original serial-killer franchise to a derivative ghost story. The spectre in question regarding Dead Silence is a vengeful Bloody Mary/Freddy Krueger type who rips out victims’ tongues (non-explicitly, though the corpses are pretty sickening to look at).
Dead Silence begins with a young wife (Amber Valletta) horrifyingly murdered with her tongue having been torn out. Slovenly police detective Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) immediately suspects the husband, Jamie (Ryan Kwanten), of the crime, mocking the young man’s story that back in the town of Raven’s Fair, where the couple grew up, there was a legend of a twisted lady ventriloquist named Mary Shaw. Her ghost supposedly excises your tongue out if you scream when you see her in a nightmare. And Jamie and his wife had just received a mysterious package from Raven’s Fair containing an antique dummy.
To both prove his innocence – and bury his late spouse – Jamie goes back to Raven’s Fair, a community that looks like a sprawling ruin. This blight, he’s told, is the result of undead Mary Shaw slaughtering whole families over the decades (you’d think law enforcement might have noticed an entire town killed off by an angry ghost, but apparently not). Jamie tries to break the curse by burying the dummy in the cemetery with Mary Shaw, but it’s not that simple.
Some of the scary stuff is just fleeting glimpses of Mary’s ghost, reflected in a mirror or in deep shadow. Dead Silence actually gets less frightening when the filmmakers apply the fancy CGI special-effects or reveal Mary Shaw in full. It’s far more ominous just to show the dummy’s staring eyes or grinning face suddenly turned in a different position than the last shot.
From the opening quotation of the old Bela-Lugosi-era Universal Pictures logo (that spangly black-and-white one with the turning globe) to the hokey dry-ice fog and noteworthy absence of swearing and nudity, the filmmakers tip you off this is going to be a retro spook show – no need to go deeper or think too hard (if you do think you’ll see the “shocking” surprise ending miles off).
While on virtually nobody’s best list (and no Dead Silence sequels arose to follow the Saw business model), it is rather cute, in a horrible way, of course, that the thing was brought off with such mock-earnestness, instead of a campy post-modern attitude. That said, only viewers seeking to complete their ventriloquist-dummy-horror-picture collection (Magic, Devil Doll, Dead of Night) are unreservedly recommended to Dead Silence.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
“Dead Silence has a lot of good qualities (the production design, the menagerie of creepy dolls, great makeup effects when folks lose their tongues/jaws), but overall this film has a huge debilitating weakness: it is dull as f***” Bloody Disgusting
“Wan and Whannell have a carnivalesque sense of fun and a sure instinct for recycling classic horror tropes, but their characters are so flat and their plotting so listless that this low-budget feature fails to generate much suspense.” Chicago Reader
“Dead Silence cribs shamelessly from the former sources, even including a demonic entity that can only truly kill you once you scream, and Dead Silence really doesn’t make with the scary until the second half. And that’s the film’s biggest downfall. Aside from having a bland leading character, and an obnoxious antagonist (really, what was Donnie Wahlberg’s purpose in this affair?), the film never truly has a clear narrative in mind until the second half where it all comes crashing down.” Cinema Crazed
” …there’s something about its overblown stormy-night atmospherics and reliably dismal dialogue that’s bad in almost a fun way. I’d rather laugh through this kind of harmless, rickety schlock, any day, than grimace through Saw III.” Daily Telegraph
“There’s something quaintly charming about the filmmakers’ unabashed affection for their inspirational source material, although the sense of over-familiarity means that none of it is in the least bit scary.” The Guardian
“Aside from a somewhat bland leading man, the cast is colorful enough to keep things moving. When things slow down a bit (yes, in Act II most definitely), director James Wan is smart enough to include some clever camera tricks, slick transitions, and creative visual kicks to forward the momentum […] Not great, not awful, but certainly worthy of a matinee peek.” The Horror Show
“Dead Silence is a good horror movie but mostly because of the team behind the dummies doing such a great job of making them creepy. But whilst not exactly disappointing I would have loved more originality when it came to the storyline as what was the backbone of this movie ended up a little too routine.” The Movie Scene
“Dead Silence may not be trailblazing and certainly breaks no new bread with regards to storytelling. However, what you get unerringly from a James Wan production, is style by the pail-load and his finesse, as both a visionary film-maker and petulant puppet master able to tinker with our fear ducts, is in embarrassing wealth here.” Rivers of Grue
“Dead Silence is worth catching if revenant movies are your thing, or if you only occasionally dip your toes into the dark waters of horror. There’s not much new at the core of the movie, but the trappings are at least different from your run of the mill ghostly outing. Overall you will be left with the feeling that with just a bit more work a much better movie could have been delivered than the one that we actually got.” Scary Minds
“Investigation, suspense, jump scare, rinse, and repeat. This is pretty much how this goes from beginning to end. The film is decent, introduces fun ideas but it always chickens out. It never indulges in the crazy situations it puts us through and uses various crutches to avoid giving us what we came for.” Tales of Terror
“Dead Silence is very much style over substance. There is a steady stream of w@nky pseudo-arty shots throughout, where maps become wide shots of the road and eyes are zoomed in to reveal an image of the next scene. And no matter how many times they do it (which is a lot), they just can’t seem to make a shot of a doll slowly moving its eyes feel that creepy.” That Was a Bit Mental
In his personal blog, screenwriter Leigh Whannell revealed the origins of the film within the context of the “Hollywood” film industry. In a candid post entitled “Dud Silence: The Hellish Experience of Making a Bad Horror Film”, Whannell explained that the film was conceived following the advice of his agent at the time and that a “script doctor” was eventually employed by the production studio. Whannell concludes the post with a description of the key lessons that were learned following the Dead Silence experience:
” …I’m almost glad Dead Silence happened because it gave me an extreme, coal-face lesson in what not to do. It was like learning to swim by leaping off Niagara Falls. I only write scripts on spec now, which means that I write them in my own time without getting paid and then take them out into the world to see if anyone’s interested. Never again will I enter the arranged marriage of selling a pitch. I have also become very gun-shy about working with studios. In the world of independent film, what you write ends up on screen. Plus, they don’t have the money to bring in script doctors! Works fine for me…”
Cast and characters:
Ryan Kwanten … Jamie Ashen
Amber Valletta … Ella Ashen
Donnie Wahlberg … Detective Lipton
Michael Fairman … Henry Walker
Joan Heney … Marion Walker
Bob Gunton … Edward Ashen
Laura Regan … Lisa Ashen
Dmitry Chepovetsky … Richard Walker
Judith Roberts … Mary Shaw
Keir Gilchrist … Young Henry
Steven Taylor … Michael Ashen
David Talbot … Priest
Steve Adams … 1941 Detective
Shelley Peterson … Lisa’s Mom
Enn Reitel … Billy (voice)
Elora and Toronto, Ontario, Canada
89 minutes | 92 minutes (unrated version)
Aspect ratio: 2.39: 1
Audio: SDDS | Dolby Digital | DTS
Universal Pictures released Dead Silence in the USA on March 16, 2007.
Dead Silence took $22.4 million on an estimated budget of $20 million so was not a theatrical success. However, the film went on to gross $17,304,718 in DVD sales in the USA alone. Further, Blu-ray disc and other ancillary sales figures, such as cable TV and streaming, are not available.