Welcome to Playing (Script) Doctor, a new blog category where I try to revamp past disappointments in the film world to bring out their potential. This is a bit of an experiment; if people like this sort of thing, I’ll open it up for commissions (these take a lot of time to make). While most script doctors are brought in to just punch up existing material, I don’t have the same restrictions, so I’ll try to re-build the foundation of the script in a productive manner as well as changing more minor details, and eventually create an outline for what my finished product would be.
Saw was easily the defining horror film of my childhood. Not that I saw it when it came out (I was about eight years old at the time), but I watched its influence spread and its empire of sequels grow larger and larger in real time. I remember being inundated with images of Shawnee Smith with the “reverse bear trap” on her head, of Billy the white-faced red-cheeked puppet, of Cary Elwes in a grimy bathroom considering cutting his foot off. It certainly made an impression on me, even if I’m not a huge fan of it (or its far less well-made sequels), which is more than I can say about a lot of American mid-2000s horror films; it also gave me a lot of respect for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell and their obvious ambition/talent despite budget constraints.
I say this because I want to make it absolutely clear that I take no schadenfreude in the failure of their second film together, Dead Silence. Wan and Whannell were tasked with producing a second film quickly after the already exhausting endeavor of producing Saw, and they tried to make something good out of a bad situation, but a combination of exhaustion and an uncaring studio inevitably made things take a turn for the worse. Whannell was so disillusioned with the experience of working with a major studio that he wrote a blog post describing the myriad ways in which the experience bit the big one, and while it is incredibly angry and bitter, it clearly comes from a very sincere place of betrayal and hurt. They’re not hacks who didn’t know what they were doing, they’re just living proof that creativity can’t be produced at gunpoint.
That’s why Dead Silence fascinates me so: it had a lot of potential to be a pretty good horror movie. Maybe not exactly a classic, but definitely an interesting little throwback item for fans of Mario Bava or The Twilight Zone (which Wan and Whannell described as their biggest influences). Instead, the film we got is compromised by both fatigue and personal interference in ways that make the things about the movie that could have been interesting, like a feature-length optical illusion. I chose Dead Silence for this column for exactly that reason, not because it’s exceptionally bad. If I wanted to do that, I’d be talking about some Eli Roth hackjob. So without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks about how to fix this thing.