Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dead Silence: D.O.A.

When I was a teenager, still in high school, and living with my mom, brother and sister, I found a doll in my room. A creepy little thing, about a foot tall, dressed in a parka made of real fur, and old. Not ancient, but definitely made before I was born, and in almost pristine condition. I found this doll, unexpectedly, on my bed one day after school. My siblings were not allowed in my room, but still I assumed it was one of theirs. My sister was the obvious choice, so I left it in her room. The next day the doll was back. My brother, much younger than I, was still at the age where playing with dolls(or stuffed animals, more likely), was not considered odd, so I put it in his room. I assumed the dolls return to my room was because my sister was saying 'its not mine!' But the next day the doll was back. Laying on the floor, staring up at my bedroom door. Now I assumed someone was fucking with me.

I began leaving the doll hidden in my siblings' closets, but it would always end up back in my room. One day, when I was home alone(my brother and sister still at daycare, and I was only recently home from school), I turned around to find the doll sitting on the floor behind me, when it had been absent moments before. I took this as a sign, and figured if the doll was going to keep coming back to me, I may as well accept it. The doll was allowed in my room, and was left undisturbed. Out of a sense of superstition I even afforded it some respect, and would always set it down rather than drop it or toss it, and it would usually reside on the couch in my bedroom, sitting up rather than laying askew.

One day, maybe 6 months to a year later, a friend was coming to stay the night and watch movies. Cleaning up, I put the doll on the couch in my room, against the armrest. When my friend arrived he took everything from the couch and piled it on the floor. Going over to the pile to sort it out, I noticed the doll was missing. "Hey, where'd you put that doll that was on the couch?" I asked. "What doll?" was his response. "Everything from the couch is in that pile." But the doll was gone, and I never saw it again.

Everything in that story is completely true, and I tell so that you will understand why I tend to give scary doll movies the benefit of a doubt, and I don't just assume they have to be silly. Yes, I always wonder why the characters in these films don't just kick the damned thing across the room, or stomp on it's head, but I'm also sympathetic to the idea that dolls can be creepy. Especially the ones that aim for a distorted human realism in their design. This story is also told so that you will believe me, utterly, when I say that Dead Silence is a complete and total piece of crap. In fact, if you got totally wasted one night and decided to make a horror movie with your sisters My Little Pony dolls, and left the lens cap on the camera, it would still have a shot at being a better, scarier film than Dead Silence.

Dead Silence falls into that no-mans-land of bad movies that are completely awful, but not quite horrible enough to be worth a campy good time. And the final kick in the shins is that it had promise, it had potential, it could have easily gone either way(scary or silly) and been a complete success. The beginning of this film got my hopes up, and I expected to at least enjoy myself when I saw the original Universal logo pop up, with some moody music beneath it. I still held out hope when the completely unnecessary title card(ala old silent films, natch) came up. But then the movie abandoned all attempts at fun and decided to go for a mood more familiar to the people who created the Saw franchise; unrelenting gloom and endless grey filters that have been popular in horror films aiming for class and respect ever since Seven. Donnie Wahlberg is almost amusing, with his world-weary detective who has a ridiculously over-zealous interest in our hero's life, and never goes anywhere without his electric razor(every scene he's in, almost, involve him shaving nonchalantly before beginning his questioning). He's like a slimy, unconvincing version of Columbo. Or at least that's what I imagine they were going for.

So, with humor no longer an option(or, as in Wahlberg's case, so inept that it can't be counted and is easily missed), the filmmakers opt for straight-up horror. And fail miserably. The central conceit is a intriguing, however, which only makes this missed opportunity all the more painful. When the evil doll-spirit is about to strike, all ambient sounds go away. Radios fade, the wind through the trees no longer whistles, and birds stop chirping. All you can hear are the sounds you make yourself, and if you scream, the spirit kills you, removing your tongue(In the realm of specific action inspired murders, this is pretty easy to avoid, and should result in a large amount of survivors). This setup almost reaches scary, before they end the scene with either a false scare or a gory murder. And on the subject of these murders, I'm still a little unclear as to what the actual story behind them is. It involves an old woman killed by the people of a small town(shades of Freddy Krueger), her 108 dolls, and a MacGuffin that is practically staring you in the face and shouting 'here I am, the obligatory twist ending!' from the first 15 minutes of the film on. Hint, for those who care; pay attention to character names.

Normally I don't tell people to stay away from a film, and in fact I've only ever done it once or twice in my life. Even if a movie is horrible, I still tend to find the experience worthwhile. But I doubt anyone out there is quite as forgiving. In my case, the viewing got this blog post, and I was 2 hours older at the end of the film. I have suffered so that you don't have to.

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