In 2004, James Wan and Leigh Whannell burst into contemporary horror-thriller genre with their highly successful movie Saw, and had created quite an enigmatic character in Jigsaw, the serial killer with highly questionable morality issues. Success had meant spawning a slew of sequels, though they hadn't really had much direct control over the quality of the subsequent movies, which I thought to date had made quite a neat trilogy.
So the pressure's to create something new, to wow audiences all over again. And sometimes, expectations set high will run into challenges when they're not met. Wan and Whannell combine forces once again for another potential stab at the genre and in doing so, had created a new character called Mary Shaw, a ventriloquist who had inspired an adage about having to keep quiet should you encounter her. However, Mary Shaw turned out to be a weak Jigsaw wannabe, and uses (well, you can say Jigsaw was inspired by) her wooden puppets, whom she calls children, to send chills and spills. I'm not sure why, but those demonic looking dolls are indeed creepy enough, they give Chucky of Child's Play a run for his money.
As with Jigsaw, some time is invested in having characters dig into Mary Shaw's background. It works like an investigative mystery, and as it went along, you'll begin to see some similarities in structure with Saw - the numerous twists and turns, events that are more than meets the eye, one more involving cops which I shall not ruin, and of course, the doll (see if you can spot the one Jigsaw uses)! But if compared, then Dead Silence was not as tight, and had a number of loopholes so wide, that it could be considered as a cheat.
The story tells of Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) who was made a widower when an unexpected delivery of Billy #57, the ventriloquist doll, seems to be the cause of his wife's demise - in probably one of the more gruesome scenes I've seen in a while. Investigations lead him to his hometown, where superstition about Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) seem be more than what is superficially discussed. Jamie gets reluctant help from Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), while having to contend with his own estranged father, and his young wife with model looks (Amber Valletta).
Superb light and shadow play amplifies the creepy moments in Dead Silence, and it doesn't rely too much on cheap shock tactics to make you scream (wait, you're not supposed to, lest Mary Shaw rips your tongue out). With a bluish tinge throughout, Dead Silence rely quite successfully on its moody atmospherics and patient buildup, though I thought that its somewhat slower pacing would have enabled audiences to piece everything together for themselves. Unlike Saw's superb sleight of hand tactics, this one played out in a more straightforward manner, and sometimes quite clumsily too. The sound effects, when there's a premonition of something bad about to happen, works wonderfully in a crowded theatre, in creating heightened tension and anticipation.
Alas its loopholes spoilt what could have been yet another classic winner from Wan and Whannell, but Dead Silence had primed itself for potential sequels, should anyone want to pick up the ball from here. Watchable, but not by any Saw standards.