Dead Silence (2007)

Dead Silence is a special beast. James Wan and Leigh Whannell brought some serious star power to this thing, and I think it’s universally agreed that the end product didn’t live up to their talents. I’m not spoiling much to say that none of us particularly liked this movie, but perhaps we can interest you in some rants about where this thing went wrong? If so, stick around for our spoiler filled review after the break.

 

 
 

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Mark: Dead Silence. I’m just going to lead with an apology on this one. Sorry. I knew it was a clunker going in, but I still felt like re-watching it. Why? Because Donnie Wahlberg is the fucking man. More on that later.

Jake: There is so much wrong with what you just wrote I don’t even know where to begin. I want at least 3 hours of my life back for the combined time-suck of watching the damn thing and going through what I’m sure is going to be a fucking ridiculous review full of attempts at Henrik Ibsen jokes only to realize A Doll’s House isn’t about actual dolls, sending us both into a wild tailspin of manic depression about the shit we wasted time reading in school. Apologize for all of that, and we’ve got a start.

Mark: The movie wasn’t good, but I’m not going to take responsibility for your horrible life decisions. I picked this one because I had to go somewhere in our idiotic game of horror-telephone starting from It Follows, and I took the easy way out by choosing another movie that Keir Gilchrest was in. I stand by the link. It’s verifiably true, although Keir is really only in the film for like two minutes in a flashback. Whatever, like my mom always said: “If you didn’t want to watch Dead Silence you shouldn’t have picked it Follows.” Wise words.

Jake: Fuck you, Mark. Fuck you. Just tell us about the movie. I’ll interject to berate you periodically.

Mark: The cold open isn't terrible. That’s as far as I’m willing to go. Basically it’s newlyweds doing newlywed things when an unmarked burlap sack shows up at their door. Being blissfully unaware of what the words “sketchy as fuck” mean, they take the thing inside and open it to find a creepy-as-hell ventriloquist dummy named Billy. “Welp,” the husband says, “we’re outta milk. Guess I better leave my wife alone with this sketched-out-shit-all. Hope that doesn’t go poorly.” Yeah, it goes poorly.

Jake: It’s Chinese food, Mark. He’s getting Chinese food. That’s the one redeeming quality of this movie. I like Chinese food. You’re not wrong though. It’s standard, but it works. Typical of Wan fare, it is well filmed and builds some good atmosphere. Unfortunately, it evaporates after the doll kills the wife, Lisa.  That’s when Detective Donnie-boy arrives on screen to investigate, ushering us into the movie proper.

Mark: Which takes us back to Donnie Wahlberg being the fucking man, and you know he’s a man because he is constantly shaving his face. Always. Every goddamn scene. Well almost… he does spend one scene just digging shit up. A little background on Donnie Wahlberg: he is most well-known for playing 2nd Lieutenant Carwood Lipton on Band of Brothers back in the day. His character in this is also named Lipton. Can we talk about that for a second? Why? Why would you do that?

 
Carwood doesn't need to be dragged into this.

Carwood doesn't need to be dragged into this.

 

Jake: Whannell thought it’d be cute? He really liked BoB and wrote Donnie in specifically to play a Lipton and act out some weird fantasy? It doesn’t really matter, but it bothered me. Like pretty much everything else in this movie.

Mark: Jamie, the main husband dude, heads back to his hometown because he knows how inextricably linked it is to doll-ghost spouse-murderings. It’s a hotbed of doll related violence. Why would you not go? Apparently his abnormally rich dad still lives there with his gold-digging step-mom who he’s never met. They’re a portrait of a functional family.

Jake: So time to pick one of many bones I have to pick with this shit. Both Jamie and his wife are from the small town you just mentioned, Ravens Fair, right? And they clearly know about a history of some  doll-related shenanigans. There’s a whole poem about it they actively comment on whilst opening previously mentioned creepy fucking package. It makes no sense that they would react the way they do given the attempted backstory.

Mark: Right? “Oh, hey look an unmarked package containing a creepy doll. Good thing we are only from a town known for murderous dolls, and not anything else that might lead us to be more skeptical of this thing.” The middle of the movie gives us a lot more of the backstory on the town as told through various expositional dumps from the characters talking to Jamie. Hell, even the half assedly concocted nursery rhyme strives to give us some backstory. “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children only dolls, and if you see her in your dreams be sure you never ever scream.” With this movie’s budget you’d think that they could’ve spent just a little more money on a poem that a.) actually rhymed and b.) made sense. Her stare has nothing to do with her modus operandi. She’s not a fucking gorgon. Also, she can’t do shit to you in your dreams. She’s not Freddy Krueger, either. There are two sentences in that poem and they are both wrong. Good work, team.

Jake: It’s infuriating. Can we just jump on your foreshadowing and get to next week’s review on A Nightmare on Elm Street? No? Ok. There’s some bullshit with Jamie running around trying to solve the mystery of Mary Shaw and Detective Lipton mostly just follows him around shaving and saying stupid shit. There. There’s my contribution.

Mark: Remember earlier when I said there was one scene when Donnie Wahlberg wasn’t shaving? Yeah, so, he basically dug up an entire graveyard of dolls in order to prove that they were all gone. There are 101 dolls buried, and he felt it was needed to dig up every single one in order to prove a point. What a fucking rube. I’m sure he went home and shaved afterward.

Jake: He did. We see it. Along with some fucking garbage attempt at humor with him questioning Billy the doll on how he keeps his face so smooth. I don’t understand the obsession or why it’s included in a mostly camp-less movie. It just creates a terrible balance that persists to the climax. Outside of shaving scenes, we are basically left with Jamie learning about Mary Shaw via flashback scenes. Townspeople killed her after a kid went missing after a kid called her out for being a terrible ventriloquist at a show. Where is this town, Canada? There’s a bit of world building through the accumulation of scenes involving Shaw in ghost form. She’s hunting down all these fuckers who sullied her name and lynched her or whatever. Insert spooky ghost scenes here with what seems like randomly picked ghost things forming Shaw’s “brand”.

Mark: Yeah how have we not talked about this yet? When Mary Shaw’s ghost is coming for you all sounds stop except for the sounds she makes. Why? Because someone in the crowdsourced team of writers thought that was an eerie effect without giving a shit that it was wholly unrelated to the thematic elements of the movie. Also because fuck you and fuck this movie, that’s why.

 
Pictured: This movie's script in mural form.

Pictured: This movie's script in mural form.

 

Jake: So… Can we just end it here then? I think our feelings are pretty well known by this point.

Mark: No. There’s one more bit left. I want to bring up the clown doll. While Jamie and Lipton  are up there in this secret attic thing staring at the 101 doll collection there’s just also a clown doll present. I guess that means she had 102 dolls? Since there’s a litany of others scattered around in the background I’d say it’s even more than that and these people are goddamn idiots at counting.

Jake: There’s also that kid that disappeared. In hollowed out doll from with strings attached. That shit’s actually fucked. Wish they would have gone more into that rather than spending 90% of the movie on PG13-worthy horse shit.

Mark: You actually make a good point on that one. This movie is rated R, but it feels like the crew didn’t know that until like the last day of shooting. Like there’s random scenes with sorta disturbing shit in them, but they pull their punches on almost all of them. They don’t ever show the dead bodies for more than a fleeting second or two. The human-dolls are basically just background props. Just like you said, Jamie and Lipton comment for a moment on the kid-doll but then just move right past it.

Jake: Unsurprisingly, the Shaw ghost cometh. Lipton unloads some shotgun shells into the dolls in a “no shit” sort of attempt at an epiphany that they have to destroy all the dolls. This angers Shaw and she chases them around the theater to the catwalks.

Mark: Lipton falls, screams, and is swiftly swept away behind a curtain for what seems to be an intentionally slapstick death scene? Basically his tongueless corpse thrusts halfway out of the curtain and falls to the ground in one of the least believable demonstrations of physics I’ve ever seen in a movie. To top it off his electric shaver falls out of his pocket and rattles around a bit before cutting away. Did they think people would be charmed by that thing?

Jake: I’m sure they did, but I’m also convinced the script was raped to an extent that the group of fucking sheeple working on this damn thing latched onto it in a clear demonstration of why the sunk costs theory exists. Whannell wrote about how bad it was.

Mark: Jamie winds up back at his dad’s house for the final reveal of the movie. Turns out he was a ventriloquist dummy the whole time. The perfect doll. Also, his step-mom is actually Mary Shaw’s ghost playing puppeteer. I’ll be fair here and say that I actually didn’t see the twist coming the first time around, but the way the characters are developed and the reveal itself is handled it still fails.

Jake: Yeah no shit. I wasn’t expecting it because nothing it did to that point mattered or was handled well enough to make sense. Ratings.

Mark: HE WAS THE PERFECT DOLL, JAKE. Ratings.


RATINGS

For 1, think of how Howard Beale would rate you continuing to take this:

 
 

For 10, think of how Kel would rate orange soda:

 
 

STORY:

Jake: 4 - This might seem undeservedly low, but this movie actually managed to take an idea with promise and develop a story that translated to screen like absolute ass. Concept be damned, if it isn’t developed into a format that works well for a feature film, it’s not a good story.

Mark: 8 - Haters gonna hate, Jake. Haters gonna hate. This is undeservedly high, but I do want to comment on the fact that the theory of this movie is pretty good. Vengeful ventriloquist ghost using creepy dummies to haunt the people that killed her. That’s a solid plot, they just drove it straight into the ground by not focusing on anything. I already regret this score.

WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:

Jake: 3 - I had the phone out during this one. I try to be professional, but sometimes you just can’t do it.

Mark: 3 - Every time you try and give this movie the benefit of the doubt it pulls you out by making an unfocused and confusing decision. It’s a catch 22, if you immerse yourself in the movie then you see all of the stupid shit that it does so you get pulled back out. The only winning move is not to play.

SCARE-FACTOR:

Jake: 3 - Dolls are not scary. A woman turned ghost hellbent on hollowing out and desecrating corpses to create “the perfect doll” is. Unfortunately, this focused much more on the basics of dolls and ghosts than the fucked up headspace of Shaw. Missed opportunity.

Mark: 4 - I disagree with Jake on the dolls comment. There’s an important distinction to make here: Chucky style dolls that try and physically attack you aren’t scary, but dolls that are vessels for demons/ghosts are. These dolls fall into the latter of those two categories so I’m okay with it. That being said the movie is so unfocused that you can hardly focus on anything enough to make the scares work.

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):

Jake: 6 - The effects were mostly inoffensive, and there were a couple good visual reveals. Yeah, there were some bad ones too, but Wan can frame a shot and use what he has to good effect. He just didn’t have a ton to work with here.

Mark: 5 - Jake got this basically right. I’m knocking it an extra point because Lipton’s death is so fucking dumb looking. Also, while the silence thing is a decent effect, it’s just shoehorned into the plot without any explanation which makes it more annoying than anything else.

OVERALL:

Jake: 3.5 - I feel like I shit on this more than Mark in our review, but look out below. Don’t watch this unless you absolutely hate dolls. Then probably still don’t watch this.

Mark: 3 - When this movie came out I was super excited to see it. Wan and Whannell are big names, the subject matter seemed creepy from the trailer, everything was coming up roses. Then, I saw the movie and learned just why I should never get my hopes up for anything in life. This movie is disappointing above all other things. Honestly, it’s up there with the Lazarus Effect on that front. The only reason you should watch this movie is if you’re writing up a case study on what a well-funded train wreck looks like.