If director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell want to get on my good side any time soon, they need to start aiming a little higher during the filmmaking process. They demonstrated their inability to do that with Saw (and need to thank Darren Lynn Bousman for saving that franchise with the sequel) and have finally confirmed it with the painfully average Dead Silence. While Saw was technically Wan’s directorial debut for a major motion picture, and is therefore more forgiveable, Dead Silence shows Wan hasn’t learned from his mistakes.
As if propelled by one of the most pedestrian sripts I’ve seen put on screen in a long while, Wan jumps to the old gimmick-y style he observed in his debut. The whole of Dead Silence is money shot after money shot after money shot all culminating in an extended cameo by Jigsaw’s puppet that does double duty as an extended early advertisement for Saw 4 and a crucial plot device in a script that has revealed itself to be an Alexandre Aja-esque crowd-pleaser and nothing more.
To be honest, the film can be pleasing at times. That is especially true for the horror crowd as Wan’s imagery, although it spans a few different horror niches (ghosts, puppets, exploitation) melds together nicely and provides a film that can be fun to look at because of its mutating and genre-spanning visuals. Wan and cinematographer John Leonetti take advantage of all the scenarios in order to provide a memorable and at best, scary, experience that may stay with audience members that are afraid of dolls after the film is over.
It is too bad James Wan still can’t direct actors. Donnie Wahlberg (who really needs to stop partnering up with Wan and Whannell) is completely wasted in an empty and annoying role. He is, though, the best actor in the whole cast with names like veteran Michael Fairman and newcomer Amber Valleta (who also played a supporting role in Premonition) hamming it up in plot device-roles. It is evident that Wan doesn’t really care about acting, thinking that the audience wouldn’t care, but he is wrong. Every time a laughable line is delivered, and there are too many for the short running time fo the film, I felt embarassed for the people involved in the film, except for Wan and Whannell – I was angry at them.
I can’t recommend Dead Silence. It only delivers on the absolute basic needs of a horror film fan. In the thematic and contextual departments, even The Messengers is better. This could have been a much better film if the creators decided to take their time in the filmmaking process. I know Wan never sat down beforehand to figure out alternatives to scenes or at least better lines of dialogue. Just like with Saw, he directs a first draft of a terrible and incomplete screenplay, that not even his good eye for visuals can save from becoming a simple failure, if not a total one.