Face-Off: Dead Silence vs. Annabelle: Creation

In a week and a half, the demonic nun introduced in director James Wan's THE CONJURING 2 will be returning to the big screen in her own film, one produced by Wan and fittingly titled THE NUN. In anticipation of that release, this week's Face-Off takes a look back at two of the many other genre films Wan has on his filmography, one which he directed, one which he produced, and both of which deal with some of Wan's favorite things: creepy puppets / dolls / dummies. The films going up against each other this week are Wan's 2007 movie DEAD SILENCE and director David F. Sandberg's ANNABELLE: CREATION (a prequel to a spin-off from Wan's own THE CONJURING), which came out last year. Let's see which of these two is the better puppet / doll / dummy movie.
There are a whole lot of creepy dummies to choose from in DEAD SILENCE; in fact, there are 101 of them, all potential conduits for the vengeful spirit of their ventriloquist. The puppet used by Jigsaw in the SAW series even makes a cameo appearance, and human corpses get turned into puppets. The primary puppet is one called Billy, which has a face that you can buy was meant to seem innocuous, but there's still something unsettling about him.
I know a lot of viewers are creeped out by the Annabelle doll, but I don't find her appearance to be all that disturbing. Sure, her face is kind of odd, but I wouldn't really think much of her if I saw this doll sitting on someone's collection shelf. It doesn't help her case that Annabelle doesn't really do anything in these movies. She just sits around, and sometimes her head is in a different position. The threat is what's lurking behind the doll.
Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell crafted an interesting mythology for their villain here; like Freddy, she even has a nursery rhyme about her! She is ventriloquist Mary Shaw, who was so enraged by a heckling child that she kidnapped him. In return, a vigilante mob killed her, cutting out her tongue when she screamed. Now the spirit of Mary Shaw is out for revenge... but she's only able to kill people when they're screaming. If they remain silent, she has no power against them.
In concept and appearance, the demon that lurks around the Annabelle doll is absolutely terrifying. Who wants a horned, homicidal demon coming after their soul and killing people around them? In execution, the demon really isn't that interesting. I mean, it's even overshadowed by an odd looking doll. This demon just hangs out in the shadows, using its supernatural powers to play mind games with people, without displaying any real personality.
DEAD SILENCE follows Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten), a bland hero type who seeks answers after the spirit of Mary Shaw kills his wife. There is sadness to Jamie's story, but that's not really enough to make you care for the guy. He just doesn't have much going on. More intriguing is Donnie Wahlberg as the detective who's trailing Jamie and tends to trim his neck hair in the middle of conversations. He brings a sleazy quirkiness that's welcome in comparison to the generic lead.
It doesn't get much more vulnerable than the characters in this film: the demon targets a group of young orphan girls with the intention of possessing one of them. The main characters are Janice (Talitha Bateman), who has to wear a leg brace after a bout with polio, and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson), who does what she can to help Janice as the demon goes after her. These two have a very sweet, emotional connection that made me hope they would make it through this situation okay.
If you're unnerved by dummies, DEAD SILENCE is almost guaranteed to give you the willies, as Wan filled the film with lingering close-up shots of their carved features, stirring up the anticipation that these inanimate objects are going to move on their own. Beyond that, Wan is a big fan of the jump scare technique - slow, quiet scenes are punctuated by loud noises, fast motions, and flashy editing in an effort to get a reaction from the viewer.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is relentless in its mission to scare the audience as much as possible. The jump scare style may not be to your taste, but if such things do work for you this movie tries to make sure you'll be jumping in your seat again and again. It's almost nothing but scary set piece after scary set piece as the demon torments the hell out of a disabled little girl - it really makes you feel sorry for the kid, she gets put through so much.
Wan and cinematographer John R. Leonetti achieved a dark, "heightened reality" feel with this film - it doesn't look like it's happening in the real world. I find it to be kind of off-putting, and not in a good way. I don't really like looking at this movie. It's also interesting to see some of the overly complicated shots Wan threw in here. This was his follow-up to his breakthrough film SAW, and it looks like the work of a fledgling director who was trying to prove himself.
Sandberg and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre went for a more naturalistic look for this film. As unappealing as the remote desert location is, the film looks like it's really taking place in such a location. There are some flashy shots here and there, but the shooting style is pretty straightforward for the most part. When night falls, the isolated house gets very dark, and the filmmakers made great use of its deep shadows.
DEAD SILENCE got off to a strong start, but in the end ANNABELLE: CREATION managed to pull off the victory, despite its single doll being vastly outnumbered by the 101 dummies. DEAD SILENCE is a fine film with an impressive villain, but overall I find ANNABELLE: CREATION to be a much more involving, entertaining, and unsettling viewing experience.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you prefer SILENCE over CREATION? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to send in suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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