Blu-Ray Review: Dead Silence (2007)

MARCH 23, 2023


For those who came late or just forgot, in the early days of this site, the reviews were more like "reactions", aimed at people who saw the movie already and wanted to chime in after I posted a few scattered thoughts I had about it. One such example is Dead Silence, which says almost nothing about the movie and instead focuses on the poor marketing campaign, and why I think it's a more proper "scary movie" than Saw (not to say a BETTER movie, mind, just more genuinely scary). And ironically, I also note that I'm excited that it's a Universal movie, because that'd mean it'd come to HD-DVD*, which at the time was a. fighting with Blu-ray to be the champion for next format, and b. what I had instead of Blu-ray (I ended up caving about a year later, when it was clear HD-DVD was going to lose that war). Because now it's on the even better 4K UHD format, and in turn I'll finally, you know, talk about the movie.

Even its own filmmakers have dismissed it at one time or another (screenwriter Leigh Whannell flat out called it a "bad movie" on his blog, which is now defunct but archived if you hunt for it), due to studio interference and rewrites by another writer that turned the movie into something different than what they had in mind. The most amusing thing is that they wanted a PG-13 movie, only for the studio - eager to cash in on their Saw notoriety - to insist on adding gory violence to ensure an R rating. Wan and Whannell had the last laugh though; after this, the team went back to their independent roots and made the PG-13 Insidious, which was just as big of a hit as Saw was and spawned a franchise of its own. For younger horror fans who grew up on Insidious and Conjuring, it's probably hard to believe that once upon a time a studio would second guess James Wan about a horror movie, but as a fan of this film from the start who felt kind of sad that it was so poorly received, it's great to have the ultimate seal of vindication all these years later with a Scream Factory release.

Don't get me wrong: it's not a perfect film by any means. The pacing is a little wonky and Ryan Kwanten isn't the most compelling lead in the world (he's gotten better over the years though!), but as someone who always appreciates a studio horror film that goes off the beaten path a bit, I find lots to enjoy here. I mean, it's an original story about an evil ventriloquist, at a time when every other horror movie out was either a Saw wannabe or a remake. It probably threw Wan's fans for a loop (looking back, the twist reveal being accompanied by flashback cuts was clearly someone's call to make it more in line with his previous film), but I feel in a post-Malignant world, people are more attuned to the filmmaker's off-kilter sensibilities, and will be able to reevaluate it if they dismissed it back then.

There's also something that's still kind of unique about it, in that it's a supernatural film starring two guys. Most horror films, especially those with ghosts/possession type plots, focus on women (i.e., well... Insidious, Conjuring, and Malignant, not to mention Whannell's Invisible Man), but Kwanten is front and center for nearly every scene, with Donnie Wahlberg's suspicious but patient cop as co-lead. Their "we don't get along but want the same thing" kind of dynamic reminds me of Witchboard (complete with one of them dying near a boat!), and while Whannell specifically noted Wahlberg's shaving habit as something the other writer added, I apologize but I still find it very amusing for some reason. The women, however? One dies in the opening, another only has a very brief part (but is the only person to survive the film, fwiw), and the other two are the villains. It's not misogynistic or anything to my eyes, just a different, relatively rare shift in focus for this kind of fare.

And the dolls are super creepy! By now we know that Wan prefers that his dolls stay pretty still instead of running around like Chucky, so along with the Malignant-esque kookiness (I absolutely adore the hidden hallway bit) I think it's amusing that for "the Saw guy", THIS film is more of a precursor to the rest of his career, with Death Sentence being the only post-Saw movie that feels like it's from that same filmmaker. The scene where the dolls all slowly turn one by one to look at our heroes is a terrific sequence, and he gets a lot of mileage out of light/shadow making it seem like Billy (why the same name?) is moving more than it is. Speaking of, since this is supposed to be a review of the 4K transfer as well - it's much easier to spot the OTHER Billy in Mary Shaw's lair, and Charlie Clouser's terrific score sounds better than ever.

The disc's packaging only advertises a fresh interview with Whannell for its new features, but it also has a new one from Wan and another from the guy who did the puppets. Each runs 12 minutes or so and are sadly not as candid as some other Scream Factory chats have been in the past, but Wan and Whannell both seem (rightfully!) happy that the film has found its audience over the years and seem less harsh on it than they were back then, though they both spend more time talking about how much they love each other and their time at film school together than they do the movie, making me wish they just had the two of them sit down for a commentary so we could benefit from that dynamic and maybe actually talk more about the film itself, but alas. All of the old features are also brought over, including the original bookends for the film that I feel shouldn't have been cut, but I assume it's far too late for anyone to bother making a new cut. The unrated cut of the film is also included, but (as with the features) is only available on the standard Blu-ray - the 4K UHD disc has only the theatrical cut. But that's fine; the unrated one has a few scene extensions that are take or leave, but is mostly devoted to a very dumb idea of giving Mary a longer CGI tongue during the kill scenes, and it looks stupid. Stick with the R rated one and just swap the disc out for the bonus features if you're so inclined!

The team's attempt to make a modern Hammer movie was an admirable one, and for the most part it worked in my opinion. There's also a bit of House of Usher to the proceedings, with a family curse and a decaying building (the theater), so if you're into those kind of movies (which, like this one, tend to be a bit sluggish with their pacing, with the atmosphere and vibe making up for it) and haven't seen this yet, I think you'll enjoy it especially as it is now itself a bit of a relic (sixteen years old this month!). And if you saw it at the time and walked out disappointed that it wasn't Saw, give it another look! That may be the very thing you appreciate most about it now.

What say you?

*The look and sound of perfect.

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