The ads for “Dead Silence” will tell you that the movie comes from “the writer and director of ‘Saw.’” A more accurate description, though, would be that it comes from “the writers of ‘Magic’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’” since the movie’s premise borrows liberally from both. If it bears any similarity to “Saw,” it’s in the ending, but more on that later.
Ryan Kwanten stars as Jamie, a man whose wife is brutally murdered while he’s out getting takeout. The detective assigned to the case, Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), thinks Jamie is guilty, but Jamie thinks it has something to do with the ventriloquist doll he mysteriously received before his wife was killed. Those dolls, to the people from Jamie’s hometown, are a bad omen; he grew up hearing a ghost story about a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), who would cut out your tongue if you screamed at the sight of her. Jamie thinks he’s being terrorized by Mary, and he confronts his distant father (Bob Gunton) to find out why.
Like the “Saw” movies, “Dead Silence” is not scary so much as it’s unsettling. Mary Shaw’s victims look like gored-up versions of the dead people in “The Ring,” which will have you covering your mouth unconsciously. The manipulation of audio – or the slow draining thereof – is used to shockingly good effect, and those damn dolls are just creepy. The entire movie is shot in a wash of blue and gray, which makes everything look just a tad more sinister than it otherwise would.
But it’s only so creepy, so sinister. “Saw,” after all, was not a horror movie but a graphic thriller. “Dead Silence,” likewise, is a graphic ghost story. And, typical of writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, they couldn’t resist coming up with an ending that will have you arguing with your mates afterwards about its plausibility. Personally, I think it’s a huge cheat, but I thought the endings to “Saw” and “Saw III” were cheats too, so there you go.
“Dead Silence” is better than most horror movies these days, particularly those of the subgenre that likes to call itself claustrophobic cruelty (read: exploitative torture). However, that’s kind of like praising the 1963 Mets because they didn’t lose as many games as they did the previous season. Better, yes, but not quite great.(3 / 5)