HD DVD Title: Dead Silence Unrated(Combo Format)
Rated: Unrated (R theatrically)
Screen format: 1080P 2.41:, VC-1 Encoded
First theatrical release: 16 March, 2007
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Day and Date with Widescreen DVD
Director: James Wan
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Bob Gunton
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 31 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
From James Wan, director of Saw and its sequels (and also Leigh Whannel, writer of the same), comes Dead Silence, a modern ghost story. While Dead Silence does fail to get cooking with the same level of ferociousness or fright that those films do, it’s goal is entirely more artsy, as an attempt to revive and remember the great creepy ghost stories from the 50’s and 60’s.
When Jamie Ashen’s (Kwanten) wife is killed under mysterious circumstances after receiving a creepy ventriloquist dummy, Jamie is suspect number one and returns to his home town of Raven’s Fair to discover the truth surrounding the local legend of Mary Shaw, a magician and ventriloquist who had no children but 101 child like dummies. Hot on Ashen’s tail is Detective Jim Lipton (Wahlberg), who has Jamie pegged as the prime suspect and who doesn’t want to hear any ghost stories. Jamie must confront his father (Gunton) to get to the truth about Shaw and her children, and why he or his wife might have been targeted by someone related to Shaw.
Dead Silence didn’t work for me on most levels and I found it hard to stay with it until the end, but sticking with it did reward with a mildly entertaining ending. Overall, the dummys didn’t earn the level of depravity as Fats from 1978’s Magic or the sheer nihilistic thrill of Chuckie from Child's Play. Kwanten similarly was almost boring to watch, and some of the dialogue in the film is absolutely cringe-worthy, as is the contrived half remembrances that Jamie has. In the end there are better ventriloquism movies, much better ghost stories and a fans of Saw who come in based on the lineage of this film will be scratching their heads within minutes, the films couldn’t be any more different.
Sound Quality: 2/5
At first DS had the potential to use some really slick surround effects, because the way the Dummys kill induces a kind of sonic ‘black hole’ that sucks all of the sound out of the room their victims are in. Since this is done only once, other split channel effects are all to infrequent, bass is minimal, and the musical score is never sounds as intriguing as it does in the HD DVD menu system, overall the sound in this disk adds up to one big disappointment. Overall the sound is a bit below average but the wasted potential given what was hinted at really makes it all the worse.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
On one hand, the visual styling of DS is very strong, featuring an interesting infrared style cinematography, a bleached out vibe, and some stunning CG effects that are seamlessly integrated and belie the big budget behind the production, despite the simple influences that the director and producers claim. On the other, DS is a very dark and gritty film with a ton of very stark contrast and many scenes with mostly hidden detail. Sharpness is a bit uneven, but mostly positive and I never noted any edge enhancement or other digital artifacts. Similarly, there were never any pops or scratches calling attention to the film element, and occasional flares of color serve to make me believe that all of these qualities are exactly as the director intended.
Extra Features: 4/5
The eternal paradox of movies on DVD is that, for the most part, the films you really want to have a flood of extras rarely do, and those that you don’t care for often have a laundry list of extras that take forever to get through. SD is no exception to this, but I am happy to say that for the most part the extras are all much more intriguing than the film itself. Starting with what are billed as an Alternate beginning and ending, these are really just the beginning and end as originally scripted, and have been clipped in the editing process. Even more interesting is that these clips show that the ‘Silence’ angle was much more fully fleshed in the script than the final film lets on, and the film itself is poorer for it. Next up are a half dozen deleted scenes, most featuring a groundskeeper character that was also clipped from the movie. The heart of the extras however are a 20 minute long ‘Making of’ that contains the usual cast and crew interviews, in particular striking home the ghost story homage that they were going for, and also a ‘Secrets of Mary Shaw’ segment that fleshes out some of the details that are glossed over in the film. Next is an awesome visual FX presentation that takes a key sequence showcasing a bridge outside the theater that is a main set piece in the film, and shows how this segment transformed from pre-visualization through CG, green screen, and live action intermingling, and finally as shown in the film with digital aging over top of it. Finally there is a video from a band I did not recognize from a song I don’t remember hearing in the film or its credits.
Overall: 2.5/5 (not an average)
The funny thing is that while I didn’t like Dead Silence up until its final few minutes, I really got a kick out of its extra features and I would recommend those to any fan of films in general or especially of the horror genre. For fans of Mr. Wan or of the Saw films, taking a look at them will show nicely why these guys chose to change so dramatically from what they have succeeded at with that franchise and what they hoped to accomplish here. In the end I can’t recommend Dead Silence for more than a rental, especially given the cost premium inherent in a combo format disk and because it simply didn’t resonate with me.