FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Sep 26, 2007

Hello, Dolly! - Day 3

I know people who went to see Dead Silence (2007) in the theatre- I managed to miss it- and when they pinched up their faces and told me "It...wasn't very good", I refused to believe it. Though I value their opinions greatly, I basically threw up my hand, uttered a "Bah!" and stormed off. Dead Silence is about a ventriloquist's dummy! Dead Silence is going to revive the sagging killer doll/dummy genre that no one has wanted to touch thanks to some jerk named Chucky! Dead Silence has to be good! It just has to!

Folks...it's a dark, dark day here at Final Girl Headquarters. I've learned a cold, hard life lesson today, and I'm afraid it's maybe...just maybe...turned my glittery pink heart of childlike innocence into a dull, coal-black heart of coal. In a span of just 90-odd minutes, I'm tellin' you...I went from Iris to Easy Iris like nobody's business.

Don't cry for me, dear reader- cry for all of us. Cry for all of us, because the lesson I learned affects us all, no matter our station in life. Cry for all of us, because nothing will ever be the same. Cry for all of us, because everything we've ever known is slipping away into a vortex of confusion, mystery, and glitter. Clutch someone you love close to your side before you read my next few statements, for surely it will hit you almost as hard as it hit me:

Just because a movie features a dummy or a doll, it doesn't mean the movie will be good.


Just because a movie features a dummy or a doll, it doesn't mean the movie will be scary.

That hurt. That really, really hurt me. It's like a slap in the face from an ice-cold glove of ice-covered iron, isn't it? Somehow, typing it makes it...I don't know, it makes it real. It's like finding out all at once that there's no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, and no Mrs Butterworth. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but what is there left to live for?
Beware the stare of Mary Shaw-
she had no children, only dolls.
If you see her in your dreams,
be sure you never, ever scream.
So goes the "eerie" rhyme that the parents of Raven's Fair use to keep their children in line. Now, I'm all about scary poems used to terrify children into good behavior- but I think the citizens of Raven's Fair could have done a bit better- what's up with trying to pass off "Shaw" and "dolls" as words that rhyme?

Anyway, Mary Shaw was some old ventriloquist broad who fell victim to some Freddy Krueger-style justice many moons ago. When she's accused to kidnapping and possibly killing a young boy, the good citizens of Raven's Fair take justice into their own hands and kill Mary Shaw- they kill her dead! For some reason, though, the good citizens of Raven's Fair decide to carry out Mary's absurd, elaborate, and no doubt pricy burial requests anyway: she wants each of her 100 dolls to be buried individually in little coffins, and she wants...to be made to look like a doll herself.

Sigh.

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa are perplexed when one of Mary's dummies, Billy, mysteriously shows up on their doorstep. Before the night is through, Lisa is dead and Jamie heads back to his childhood home in Raven's Fair to solve the mystery. The mystery gets more and more ridiculous and less and less scary until it finally explodes in a fiery clusterfuck of CGI-laden bullshit riddled with plot holes like so much CGI-rendered swiss cheese.

Honestly, I'm hard pressed to think of anything that Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell get right in Dead Silence, because they get so fucking much wrong it's depressing.

- The 'mystery' of the dummies simply isn't mysterious, and it doesn't open up through stuff like...oh, clues and discoveries, but rather through people telling one another very explicitly what's going on. When it comes to a horror movie centered around a mystery, one of the finest examples I can think of from recent years is The Ring. The story of the sinister videotape unfolded throughout the entire film, right up until the last few moments. As Rachel (Naomi Watts) pieced the puzzle together, the audience did as well- there were red herrings, misdirections...and nothing was spelled out or dumbed down. Imagine what a different film it would have been if, in the first fifteen minutes, Rachel had inquired about the tape only to be answered with "Oh yeah, the tape. You've never heard the story of the tape? Let me tell you! See, there was this girl, right? And she totally...blah blah blah that's the whole story! Someone else will tell you all about it again in half an hour!" That "different film" is Dead Silence.

- The "dummies are creepy" angle works when the dummies actually DO something, like move or talk or whatever. In a movie such as this, the effectiveness of seeing a doll just plain sitting there, immobile, wears off after maybe two shots. Yeah, Billy's eyes move every once in a while- but that's it. The dolls don't kill in Dead Silence...a CGIed Mary Shaw kills. Way to squander the opportunity to exploit (most) people's inherent fear of dolls.

- Whatever happened to shots that last longer than 4 seconds? A ghostly figure floating down a hallway could be scary- if we saw it for longer than a second at a time. Jump cuts and the such are so overused in this movie, even in scenes where two people are simply talking. Jump cuts are a tool that should be used to strengthen a sequence- not a filmmaking style to be used for 90 minutes. It sucks all the tension out of a scene and leaves the viewer confused, pulling him or her out of the action.

- If only a little bit of attention had been given to the characters in the film- even a teeny-weeny little bit! I know he wasn't given much to work with, but Ryan Kwanten made for one of the dullest, most dreadful leading men I've seen since...well, ever. He had less personality than Billy did, even when Mary Shaw's hand wasn't shoved up his butt. Billy's butt, that is.

Dead Silence reminded me of another 'childhood terror/legend' stinker: Darkness Falls. In other words, it's a laughable mess of wasted opportunities- simply put, a huge fucking disappointment.

You know what, though? I'm not gonna let this suckfest ruin my hopes for the next dummy movie that comes down the pipe. It'll be scary, I just know it will! It has to be!

13 comments:

dreamrot said...

The jump cut thing has become an epidemic. It's lazy directing. Rather than building tension through good story telling, it's easier to make fast edits to confuse people's brains.

I have to agree, Dead Silence left a lot to be desired. Like an explanation for all of Donnie Walberg's shaving. Constantly shaving! Who shaves that much?

Mariana said...

They didn't have an army of ventriloquist dummies marching over town by the end of the movie? I thought that was the only point of there being so many! *tear*

Josh DeSlasher said...

Thankyou Stacie for clarifying that this film is a passover. I've been told by some to see it, because it was so good. Now, based on their past ratings, and your past ratings, it's safe to slant to your side and say it's 'blah'.

PS, are you going to bring back the "3.5 depressed ox out of 10"?

math said...

Glad you didn't like this blah little movie. I saw enough praise for it being a supposed throwback to the old RKO or Universal days that I was starting to wonder if I'd missed something.

ARBOGAST said...

what's up with trying to pass off "Shaw" and "dolls" as words that rhyme?

"Beware of the stare of Mary Balls!"

Rural Juror said...

I'm not totally surprised that the people behind Saw 3 couldn't make a decent movie...

cattleworks said...

Your link to "Struwwelpeter" was great!
I had never heard of the damn thing before and looking at the different stories is, well, not jaw-dropping, but definitely mouth-opening.
What an awesome, awesome reference!
Thanks for sharing!

Oh, haven't seen the film, though, because I'm a time-mismanaging bonehead.

Jay Amabile said...

I was truly looking forward to this one. Now I'll wait for it to come to HBO or something. Thanks for the heads up.

benz said...

Wait! Mrs. Butterworth isn't REAL?!?

Stacie Ponder said...

"They didn't have an army of ventriloquist dummies marching over town by the end of the movie?"

You'd think, right? They had 100 dolls all in the same place, but all they did was turn their freakin' heads!!

"PS, are you going to bring back the "3.5 depressed ox out of 10"?"

Probably not. I was getting too existential about my ratings and I was all wrapped up in the variables- "What if it sucks, but I loved it? What if it's good, but I didn't care for it?" and the such. Also, I noticed quite a few other people using the same kind of ratings on their blogs, so...I just kind of dropped it.

Who knows? Maybe some day I'll have an epiphany and I'll come up with the perfect Final Girl ratings system!

"a supposed throwback to the old RKO or Universal days"

Now that's just crazy talk! I've read the same thing, actually, but I totally don't get it.

"Your link to "Struwwelpeter" was great!"

Yay! I even have the book. I read it to my cats before bedtime, but I don't think they've learned anything at all.

"Mrs. Butterworth isn't REAL?!?"

It hurt me deeply to have to be the one to relay that info. How many childhoods have I destroyed, all for a film review??

melizer said...

Aw, crap. I was really looking forward to this. :(

I only read the first two paragraphs of your post (I'll read the rest after I see it) but I saw enough to know it was disappointing.

I can't believe I didn't check in for a week and you spent it all writing about dummy movies!! Yay!

Scared stiff said...

Hi all, just thought I would give my take on this film that i recently watched on DVD. Sure there were plotholes in this movie that needed to be answered. As you alluded to earlier sophie, why on earth would the people of ravenfair obligingly bury Mary Shaw and her entire doll collection after they killed her for the disappearance of a boy?

However i must credit the director for introducing a twist in the ending that looked unexpected but yet at same time makes sense if one paid close attention to little clues left in the film (which i didn't initially :P).

Allow me to explain (warning spoilers below so dun read if you havent watched the movie yet.)
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Mary Shaw was a well known ventriloquist in Ravenfair and held performances with her puppet billy. However she had a dark secret. She wanted to create a perfect doll. [alluded to when jamie ashen was flippling thru her diary].

The disappearance of the boy who questioned her ability as a ventriloquist was the result of her dark desire. [that boy is michael ashen, jamie's uncle and he would be considered one of mary's shaw's failed projects tp create the perfect doll]. Not surprisingly, she was lynched by the ashen family as well as people in ravenfair when they suspected her.

She was turned into a doll and buried along with her hundred over dolls as stated in her will. (Why this happened we wont know). Unfortunately for the people of ravenfair, mary shaw refused to stay dead and her spirit lingered plus she could inhabit any of her own dolls at will. She sought revenge against the people who killed her and also against the ashen family. [Again another plothole as we were not told how the families in ravenfair were killed, had their tongues cut out and were posed in macabre family portraits].

Jamie's wife was murdered in the same grisly way as the people of ravenfair had been previously. The reason was explained when Jamie went close to the clown doll at the end and was told the following phrase "you are not the last ashen". Obviously jamie's wife was pregnant [hinted at the beginning when she was standing in front of the mirror and artificially expanded her tummy].

By now you are wondering what this has to do with the twist but i will get to it. i am trying to show how most things tie into the twist.

Jamie's father's expressionless face and almost non existing blinking were clues that he was already dead, another experiment of mary shaw. Again it was stated how he died although we can safely assume that a person who has suffered debilitating stroke would be in no position to put up a fight. Also when the demented old lady informs jamie that his father picked up billy from the funeral home even though jamie knows his father can't walk. the reason is clear again, mary shaw can possess her dolls as she wishes.

Now finally we come to the twist. That Ella, jamie's dead stepmother, had orchestrated all these things. Ella, in mary shaw's book, was defined as the perfect doll. A doll with human features and movements. She had mailed billy the doll to jamie so that mary shaw could get to work killing jamie's wife. It was not mentioned how mary shaw got hold of ella. The alternate ending on the DVD did shed some light on this. Ella had been abused by jamie's father as was stated on the movie. However in the alternate ending, there was a scene where she was pushed down the stairs by jamie's father and brought to hospital where she had a miscarriage (she was shown to be pregnant then). Another scene showed her sitting back home and staring at the fireplace with hatred in her eyes. As she was doing so, the figure of mary shaw appeared through the curtain. The next scene showed ella kneeling in front of billy's grave, having dug him out. Her back was shown to us as she held him up. billy's mouth then opened spontaneously and then the scene faded. What we have here is a woman who probably hated her husband for abusing her and causing the miscarriage. Mary shaw also harboured deep seated hatred to the ashen family. Perhaps ella gave her body to mary shaw as a means of seeing revenge dealt to her husband.

If only the directors had used the scenes from the alternate ending, pehaps people wont be so perplexed about ella as being the perfect doll for mary shaw.

Anonymous said...

OMG i loved the movie i thought it was scary. but why they ended it like that was wierd probly cause theyre leaving hints 4 a 2nd 1 but i LOVED THE MOVIE CREEPY AND CUTE