Warning - possible, yet minor, spoilers (although for other films, not this one) ahead. Proceed with caution as I do indicate where they are specifically in the text.
It's that time of year again with costumes, candy and fly-by-night costume stores magically appearing then disappearing in strip malls. Most importantly though it means a month-long celebration of Horror movies, and the time honored tradition for many of spending each of October's 31 days viewing one (or more).
My Day 1 pick for 2014 was a title that was recently added to Netflix streaming, and I have been hovering around watching ever since it appeared. It seemed the perfect choice to start off with, the 2007 James Wan directed feature Dead Silence.
James Wan made a splash with the first Saw film which also became one of the most lucrative horror franchises following in the A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 14th and Halloween footsteps with multiple sequels (7 films in total with an 8th announced).
Many credit Saw with inventing that infamous horror genre dubbed "torture porn", but watch the original film compared to the sequels and in retrospect, it's pretty tame. I like to blame Hostel for that more than I am Saw - at least the first one.
Where Wan really won me over though was with Insidious and The Conjuring, both movies that along with the Paranormal Activity franchise (again, at least the first one) have redefined horror.
If you watch a lot of horror movies, you can pretty much gauge when and where the "scares" are going to come from which adds to the tension in the audience knowing that at any moment, something is going to appear on screen that may lead to you yelping and/or jumping out of your seat. I have noticed James Wan takes a different approach. In both Insidious and The Conjuring, and in some respects Dead Silence as well, the idea that something could come on screen to freak the audience out could come at any time without warning. [here are those SPOILERS I warned you of earlier] For instance in Insidious, there is a scene where Barbara Hershey is telling Patrick Wilson there is a demon standing right behind him - one we the audience did not see UNTIL the camera cuts back to him and sure enough, there is this freaky dude hovering over him. I recall losing my mind over that. In The Conjuring, a character makes the ridiculous move that many horror characters make of investigating noises in a dark, deserted basement only to find nasty things. In a moment of relief leaning against a wall, a pair of hands slide out of the darkness and merely slap sending the character into hysterics, and me to turn on all the lights in the room so I don't have a heart attack.
I also found this with The Blair Witch Project with its prolonged sequences of running through dark woods and I remember sitting in the theater completely on edge having no idea where the scares were going to come from and when. Blair Witch never really cashed in on this effectively, whereas James Wan has made it his standard operating procedure.
Dead Silence features some striking imagery and makeup effects that stuck with me afterwards. It has an eery horror story mythology built into the plot that has all the primary characters freaked out, a creepy ventriloquist dummy that holds the key to the mystery, another dummy that is made up to look like a clown and speaks in a demonic voice (the clown aspect is terrifying on its own, but add the voice and it becomes the source of future nightmares), and moments where the sound and the score just come to a dead stop which just adds to the tension. I mean the music and sound just stop dead (it is called Dead Silence after all), and you know things are coming and they aren't going to be fun for anybody - except for an audience sitting in a darkened room looking to be scared out of their minds.
In terms of Wan's filmography, this movie followed the first Saw, and preceded Death Sentence (2007) and Insidious (2010).
Of note, James Wan is taking a break from the horror genre to direct Fast & Furious 7 which is currently in post-production and due in theaters next year. However he hasn't abandoned the horror genre entirely, acting as a producer on Annabelle which opens wide in theaters this coming Friday.