In the town of Raven’s Fair it’s a good idea not to scream, or one may lose one’s tongue to the ghost of Mary Shaw. Shaw was a ventriloquist who had the nasty habit of murdering local children who heckled her show. So the town rose up and killed her. However, she regularly returns from the grave to kill people, particularly relatives of the families that were responsible for her death. Protagonist Jamie (Ryan Kwanten), who’s one such relative, thinking he had escaped his creepy history in that town by moving away, finds one of Mary’s dummies on his doorstep, and despite the superstition that such things are a “bad omen,” leaves his wife (Laura Regan) alone with it while he gets dinner. As can be expected, he comes home to a corpse, and soon finds himself a suspect in her death. He returns to Raven’s Fair to settle the score with Mary and clear his name.
This movie had the potential to be incredibly dumb, and I’m glad to say it isn’t. It’s fairly original: it opens with the nifty notion that the spirits of the dead speak through the stomachs of the living; there’s also an unlikely but still creepy subplot about Mary trying to create the perfect doll and being made a giant doll when she died. But by and large, it’s the lack of humor that makes it great. Many a bad movie is made worse by one-liners, but this one is fairly free of them. Occasionally there’s a purposely amusing moment; the best lines are delivered by the detective following Jamie (Donnie Wahlberg). Yet overall in terms of comic relief, even Saw is funnier. Despite plot issues like why Mary Shaw is playing to a packed house when she is not only a terrible ventriloquist but also extremely off-putting, it’s the least cheesy horror movie I’ve seen in a while.
It’s written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan. They’ve already established their skill at creating a mood and building tension with Saw, and Dead Silence does not disappoint in that department. They also do some great eerie things with lighting; their manipulation of shadows and flashing lights is much more effective than the dummy, who mainly sits on his ass and moves his eyes. I first watched this in the middle of the day with my husband Andrew; I re-watched it at night by myself, and the effect was quite different. The eeriness of the movie that I was indifferent to before became unnerving, and I enjoyed the movie both more and less than at the first viewing. I still cringe inwardly at Mary’s little rhyme: “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She has no children, only dolls. If you see her in your dreams, be sure you never ever scream or she’ll rip your tongue out at the seam.”