Main cast: Ryan Kwanten (Jamie Ashen), Amber Valletta (Ella Ashen), Donnie Wahlberg (Det Jim Lipton), Michael Fairman (Henry Walker), Joan Heney (Marion Walker), Bob Gunton (Edward Ashen), Laura Regan (Lisa Ashen), and Judith Roberts (Mary Shaw)
Director: James Wan
I didn’t have much hope for Dead Silence when I sat down to watch it, expecting another B-grade cable fodder, but to my pleasant surprise, this horror movie turned out to be a well-acted fare that contained a pleasant mix of cheeky humor and chills that were psychological instead of gore-laden.
Ryan Kwanten, whom I’m sad to report isn’t as buffed here as the when he later bares pretty much everything for the TV series True Blood, plays Jamie Ashen. Jamie and his wife Lisa escaped Raven’s Fair before this movie opens, hoping to escape the “quirky” eccentricity that marks the people of that small town. However, when an anonymous parcel shows up at their door containing a ventriloquist’s doll called Billy, poor Jamie will learn that he cannot run from his past, especially when he returns home one night to find his wife dead, the poor dear’s tongue ripped out of her mouth.
While there was no return address on the parcel, Jamie knows at once where he should go for answers. You see, the way his wife died was straight out of his old family legend. A long time ago, when a show house was actively in business, there was a popular ventriloquist named Mary Shaw. She was a creepy-looking old spinster whose performances with her wide array of dolls were nonetheless very popular because the dolls were so… life-like when they talked. However, one night, an Ashen kid heckled Mary Shaw during a performance. When that kid disappeared shortly after, a couple of Ashen men decided that Mary Shaw was responsible and performed a most violent kind of retaliation on her. Since then, it is said that Mary Shaw’s vengeful spirit still leaves, tormenting the Ashen clan for the painful death their ancestors inflicted on her. The way poor Lisa died is exactly the way Mary’s victims were said to be killed.
While skipping so soon after Lisa’s death isn’t the wisest thing to do, especially when he is suspected of murder, Jamie nonetheless returns to Raven’s Fair, determined to get answers from his father and get to the bottom of the Mary Shaw mystery once and for all. He realizes that his father had married his beautiful nurse, but that isn’t as disorienting as the arrival of Detective Jim Lipton, a detective who thinks he’s auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie, who is determined to find evidence to nail Jamie for Lisa’s death.
Despite being directed and scripted by the folks behind the increasingly brainless Saw franchise, Dead Silence is refreshingly gore-free. Instead, the movie relies on atmosphere and build-up to deliver the chills. Meanwhile, the dolls like Billy are truly creepy because they resemble actual dolls rather than, say, a cute Chucky clone, and therefore… well, they are some of the ugliest things I’ve seen and I have no problems believing that they are truly the tools of evil, heh.
The characters do some dumb things here, but ah, what’s a horror movie without a few stupid stunts, eh? I can easily overlook those problems because this movie is so entertaining. Mr Kwanten plays Jamie most sympathetically – Jamie is not the brightest bulb in the house but he’s so earnest and determined that it’s hard not to cheer him on. Donnie Wahlberg steals the scenes he’s in without going too over the top as the deliciously hateful Jim Lipton. Despite how annoying Jim can be, nonetheless he has a charming dynamic with Jamie that is part antagonism and part reluctant male-bonding (they are, after all, both outsiders surrounded by the relentless nuttiness of Raven’s Fair), which I find most amusing to watch. The Gothic-like setting of Raven’s Fair contributes greatly to the creepy tension of this movie.
All in all, Dead Silence is an unexpectedly entertaining scary movie. If you want gratuitous nudity from Mr Kwanten, I’d suggest watching True Blood, but if you want to see a pretty good horror film with him in the lead, this one isn’t half bad at all. There is even a very cool twist at the end.