The Films of James Wan
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Dead Silence (July 20/07)
Although director James Wan does a nice job of infusing Dead Silence with an expectedly stylish sensibility, the film is ultimately nowhere nearly as compelling as his breakthrough debut (2004's Saw) - a vibe that can be attributed primarily to the lackluster storyline and star Ryan Kwanten's decidedly uncharismatic performance. The plot - which follows Kwanten's Jamie Ashen as he returns to his hometown to bury his wife and is subsequently confronted with a decades-old mystery involving a murdered ventriloquist - has been suffused with a number of distinctly uninteresting elements, and it becomes increasingly impossible to actually care about Jamie's efforts to get to the bottom of things (ie the character spends an egregious amount of time just wandering around the spooky little town). This is despite the inclusion of several genuinely creepy moments, with the Screamesque opening certainly the most obvious example of this. But Kwanten is simply unable to transform Jamie into a compelling figure; it's instead Donnie Wahlberg's turn as Jim Lipton that proves to be the only consistently bright spot within the movie, and the actor deftly steals each of his scarce scenes as a persistent (and utterly quirky) detective. Wan's efforts to duplicate Saw's mind-bending conclusion feels like a derivative, desperate move, and there's simply no pegging Dead Silence as anything other than an ambitious misfire.
Death Sentence (October 13/07)
Death Sentence casts Kevin Bacon as Nick Hume, a mild-mannered family man whose eldest son (Stuart Lafferty's Brendan) is brutally murdered during a gas station robbery. After learning that the perpetrator will likely get off with a light sentence, Nick decides to take matters into his own hands and subsequently embarks on a campaign of revenge against each of the gang members responsible. Director James Wan - working from Ian Jeffers' screenplay - has infused Death Sentence with a distinctly over-the-top sensibility that generally feels at odds with Bacon's low-key and sporadically powerful performance; the filmmaker is clearly going for the vibe of a larger-than-life revenge movie, complete with appreciatively brutal bursts of violence, ensuring that Bacon's efforts to bring depth to the proceedings are essentially rendered moot. And while there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of some of these sequences - particularly a pursuit that eventually winds up in a parking garage - the film's schizophrenic nature eventually proves to be its downfall (that increasingly silly and preposterous trajectory of the storyline only cements this feeling). That said, Death Sentence is generally entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation - particularly for those with a natural predilection for movies of this ilk (ie revenge movies).