The killer doll genre is, in my opinion, a severely underrated gem. Goosebumps and The Twilight Zone both knew how to bring out the best in the sub-genre but recently things have slowed down. The Child’s Play franchise is set for a re-boot but for now it’s crept back into cult horror status right alongside the Puppeteer series of the 80’s. When Dead Silence came out people thought that it was the film to resuscitate the dying genre, but were the fan boys right?
Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) , receive a creepy ventriloquist doll in the mail and after Lisa is found murdered, Jamie returns to his hometown as the prime suspect in order to investigate the mystery of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), a woman who was murdered by locals and allegedly haunts the town, killing the families of those who butchered her. Ashen is pursued by Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) and follows a series of leads including his wheelchair bound father, his third wife and the town undertaker.
I’ve mixed feelings about the film. On the one hand I like Mary Shaw, some of the sets and I admittedly find dolls terrifying when used right, after all this one of my favourite horror sub-genres.On the other hand though, the acting is poor, the premise is silly, the characters are forgettable and the film has few scary moments. Firstly the stuff I like, Mary Shaw is probably one of my favourite horror antagonists outside of the slasher genre. Her back story is enjoyable (including her attachment to her dolls and her quest to create the perfect doll) if a little cliché, and her modus operandi is kinda cool (what with the tongue ripping and stuff). The idea that sound disappears when Shaw is near is quite smart as is the stuff with the screaming but it does mean that audiences can laugh at the fact that Shaw is essentially harmless providing you don’t scream and a flaw like that is pretty damning for a horror film. The sets are alright, the theatre is creepy and fulfils the stereotype of the haunted house setting. The dolls can be scary but for the most part they aren’t, they just sort of sit there like props with the promise of fear but never the delivery. The film relies on jump scares a lot, with a build-up of tension and then one short, sharp shock which is alright but it isn’t really a long-term thing.
Sort of like Jack Whitehall’s career…
The acting is generally poor to say the least and the characters are forgettable save Shaw. Dead Silence falls into the trap of creating characters that aren’t especially likeable so there’s nothing for the audience to mourn when someone is killed. I never found myself invested in whether a character survived, apart from the undertaker who seemed nice enough. The premise is also really stupid. Why does the husband go back to his hometown? The film says it’s because he’s desperate to clear his name and that he doesn’t think it’s actually Shaw who killed his wife but someone working under the pretence of Shaw. Ok then but why do the police even allow him to go back? In fact, why don’t they hold him under suspicion? Sure he has an alibi (he was getting take out but that doesn’t exclude an accomplice. Furthermore, Jamie takes the doll back with him, isn’t that evidence? Shouldn’t the police be holding onto that? These plot holes are one thing but what really gets me about this film is the striking similarity to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, I mean think about it. A child murderer is killed by avenging parents whose offspring are them murdered by said ghost’s angry spirit who has a killing gimic (dreams and screaming). It’s kinda obvious when you think about it that Dead Silence is effectively a rip off. That being said however, I do have something of a soft spot for Dead Silence, despite its flaws, if only because it tried to resurrect one of my favourite sub-genres.
A semi-decent film that definitely has its flaws but worth watching if only for Mary Shaw.