I suspect that a lot of horror fans will dismiss, dislike or just plain old avoid James Wan's Dead Silence, and that's kind of a shame. The gorehounds who walk in expecting yet another example of Saw-style lunacy may walk out sorely disappointed, while those who were raised on the quick-cut hyper-stylized horror flicks of the '90s may miss the point entirely. What I saw in Dead Silence was an admirable attempt to capture some of the old-school gothic magic found in pulpy classics like House of Wax or Dead of Night. That's not to say that Wan's second feature is destined to go down as a cult classic, but that there's enough old-fashioned chiller charm to keep this horror geek happy.
The story is one of those "young guy returns to his creepy old hometown in an effort to explain recent tragedies" concoctions. This time around its Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) who's returning to the eerily-named hamlet of Raven's Fair after the creepy demise of his pretty wife. As Jamie pokes around his old stomping grounds, he gains a few clues from his estranged (and now wheelchair-bound) father, his sexy new stepmom, and a bunch of other locals who live in fair of the Mary Swan Curse. (It's got something to do with ventriloquism, dummies, and sliced-off tongues, but I don't want to spoil all the fun.) As Jamie claws closer to the answers he seeks, we get a visit to the unfriendliest town this side of Silent Hill.
Admirable for the way in which it emulates the old-school horror thrillers, although perhaps a little dry and familiar because of it, Dead Silence is a "throwback" effort that comes with its good intentions in plain view. So while the thing definitely bogs down in the middle (and offers a few lines of dialogue best described as "goofy"), there's more than enough pulpy goodness to keep the loyal horror fans afloat. Dead Silence feels a lot like a feature-length episode (or issue) of Tales from the Crypt, and I suspect that if you approach the movie that way, you'll probably dig it as much as I did.
It's a full-bore "afternoon matinee" movie, make no mistake, and Dead Silence will probably play just as well on your DVD player as it does on the big screen (better, perhaps). Aside from a somewhat bland leading man, the cast is colorful enough to keep things moving. When things slow down a bit (yes, in Act II most definitely), director James Wan is smart enough to include some clever camera tricks, slick transitions, and creative visual kicks to forward the momentum. And maybe the finale is just a little bit abrupt (or heck, even silly), I think it fits in quite well with the "comic book" vibe that Dead Silence doles out. Not great, not awful, but certainly worthy of a matinee peek.