Had I known that, I'd have covered up my faux pas ribbit with something like "Did you hear that? The dead SPEAK!" or "Hey, I'm just throwin' my voice, BABY!" Ironically, probably nobody noticed and nobody'd ever remember if they had, except for the fact that I've now printed the tale on my popular cult site, so it's preserved forever for posterior... I mean... posterity.
But enough about my dumb ass... Dead Silence is the new attempt at a horrific grand slam by the fuckers who wrote, directed and produced the Saw trilogy (so far...), Writer/ Director James Wan and Writer/ Producer Leigh Whannell. The good news is that they're breaking (or sawing) new ground by making an evil Ventriloquism movie. Because they've never done anything with evil talking dolls have they?
At first, Dead Silence feels a lot like just another Saw entry with a dark theme, a nearly hopeless luster of horrific tension and shockingly garish imagery of vile bodily damage. However, Dead Silence soon separates itself from the previous works of Australians Wan and Whannell by sinking quickly into the realm of the Supernatural.
The opening use of the "Classic" Universal Studios animated logo, and the faux-ancient film-stock scratches should have been a clue to what they were shooting for. Just in case they weren't, there is a whole lot in the realm of Universal Studios Classic Horror homages bubbling up from down under to the surface of this American film (shot on location in Canada). And it's possible that this is the very reason why many horror fans (and those dragged to the theatre by horror fans) have been deriding this puppet show like a final season episode of Charmed. It has that older horror feel (or at least the feel of young dudes attempting that older horror feel) and not a little of the older horror cheesiness. Intent may or may not have translated over to the modern horror audience... and in a film about an evil wooden Dummy running around acting like a motherfucker, intent, mood, inspiration and all that jazz is pretty much paramount to sell your wares.
The plot surrounds Ryan Kwanten's Jamie Ashen, a young douche married to Amber Valletta's soon to be deader than Dreamcast Ella Ashen. See, some unknown ass hat sends Jamie and Ella a box containing a Ventriloquist Puppet so creepy he makes Bob from Soap look like Charlie McCarthy! (What? Too obscure? What, did you want a "Lambchop" reference?) His name, as we learn, is Billy, and he's played by... well, some wooden actor.
But where did this murderous miniscule mandibled muh-fuh come from? The answer lies in the crappy and creepy little town that the Jaminator sprung from and hoped never to return to. But he's gotta now to bring back two bodies in two boxes (but one of them is that stupid Billy Puppet and he wasn't ever alive). Oh... wait...
So what so sucks eggs about coming home? Well, for one thing, Dad... Jamie's Dad (Bob Gunton's Edward Ashen) has a creepy-as-hell history with Jamie and is out to out-creep the creepy now in his wheel chair and dull speech. The good news? He's got a hot new wife in the form of Laura Regan's Lisa Ashen. Well, I guess that's not such good news for Jamie, who is... well, on the market again. The bad news? Bodies are starting to stack up like firewood (or puppets being used for firewood) to the deafening sounds of... nothing and Jamie is the prime suspect. The worse news? He's being tailed by one of the New Kids on the Block. That, in and of itself, is a personal nightmare of mine. Just walking along, minding your own motherfucking business and then you turn around and see like Jordan or... or Mitzy, or whomever the fuck was in that fuckin' NKOTB line-up, going all "OH-OH-OH-OOOOOOOOOOOH-OH!" In this case, Jamie keeps having to turn around and see Donnie Wahlberg playing Detective Jim Lipton... hanging tough and constantly shaving (yeah, he's old enough to shave now).
Okay, declaring that is scarier than anything else we might find in the movie, so I should just stop now, right? No? Hey, at least I'm not reviewing Timberlake Flicks! Fuck, I hate that guy!
Luckily the creepy coroner (Michael Fairman's Henry Walker) in the county and his even creepier wife (Joan Heney's Marion Walker) are in Jamie's corner. Unluckily, they're as crackers as a carton of Pepper Ridge Farms! Even less lucky, the trail Mr. and Mrs. Cracker-Barrell put Jamie's Ass on does indeed reveal the truth about Billy (as well as Bob, Charlie, Lamb Chop... and the OTHER Billy). I'll give you a hint... it leads to the center of the creepy-ass town, and its best known creepy-ass native, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), ventriloquist extraordinaire, visionary and... BITCH!
The rest... is restless. To the credit of Wan and Whan' they've avoided some of the more predictable toilet-bowls of current horror. There's no Undead Walk of the Marionettes in mockery of Dawn of the Dead's shopping trip, and there's no rehash of some Massacre that didn't take place in Texas (or anywhere else) weighing this down. At times, this can be pretty damned scary, especially when The Double W's take their time and every ounce of their subtlety to allow for a build up of horror-tension. A simple eye-movement or repositioning of that ugly little wooden head can raise the hackles on the attentive audience member. Further, Wan separates this film from Saw and company with some really interesting special effects to enhance his camera eye. Specifically, the use of killer scene transitions makes for a surreal and dream-like experience. Whether it's moving through the reflection in a character's eye to the next action or through a painted street sign, it's a cool little bag of gags.
But the dreamscape gets a little heavy once in a blue-filtered moon. Almost everything has that fuzzy, discolored look to it making me feel like I just took a tab of Acid, or neglected to take my Adderall, one or the other. This flick couldn't look more like The Matrix if Keanu-Man jumped thirty-five feet toward the camera and said "Whoa!" That's the scary part, man... Those evil puppets could've been controlled by Agent Smith! Further, when Naw and Llennahw decide to throw subtlety to the doggies, they really, really, really throw subtlety to the doggies. Those scenes couldn't be more in-your-face startling if Keanu-Man jumped thirty-five feet toward the camera and said "Whoa!"
And... yeah, in many ways Dead Silence feels like a flick cut from the same cloth, with the same saw as Saw, right on down to the Ventriloquist's Doll from Saw (also named "Billy") making a cameo appearance here! And not just Saw either. I don't have a whole quarter-cup full of doubt that our intrepid filmmakers have watched such films as Child's Play and Darkness Falls in addition to the complete Universal Studios Classic Horror DVD collection and more than a few episodes of Goosebumps and Tales from the Crypt. That said, Dead Silence still rarely manages to be predictable, even when it does feel familiar.
Yeah, you could do a bit worse than letting a wooden effigy of Dead Silence sit in your lap and talk, but anyone who has spent six hundred bucks on Rue Bourbon can tell you that you can also do a lot better... and a whole lot softer. Let's forget I typed that. I've got to get my backspace key fixed. Three Stars out of Five for Dead Silence, whether it's delving into red violence or focusing hard with its well-bred eye-lens. Let's face it, man... after all, it's still a flick about a serial killing dolly, ain't it? But while I've got to admit that this wasn't the king of all movies, I will say that I've got a good excuse next time I commit a party-going faux pas at some brewery somewhere. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to think of ways to prevent Michelle from ever reading this review. I've yet to live down smaller admissions than this one... Maybe I'll distract her with some skilled Edgar Bergen moves. I just need a puppet... maybe I can just use a... a sock, maybe. Could work.
No... no, it couldn't.
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