Dead Silence (2007) / Horror-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for violence and scary images
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, Amber Valletta, Bob Gunton, Michael Fairman, Joan Heney, Judith Roberts, Laura Regan
Director: James Wan

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Review published September 7, 2013

Saw co-creators James Wan (The Conjuring) and Leigh Whannell (Insidious) return to collaborate on another horror tale with Dead Silence, a visually intriguing but thinly developed scare flick that will likely only be of appeal to genre fans just looking for a few creepy jolts.

We start the film out with Jamie Ashen (Kwanten, Griff the Invisible) and his  newlywed wife Lisa (Regan, My Little Eye) coming home to their apartment to find a mysterious, unmarked package on their doorstep.  They open it to discover that it contains an eerie-looking ventriloquist's dummy inside.  Though its origin is a mystery, Jamie begins to suspect something there is sinister about the dummy when he comes home later that evening to find Lisa murdered, her mouth ripped open and tongue missing, and no sign of anyone having been in the apartment.  His alibi doesn't impress the lead detective on the case, Lipton (Wahlberg, Annapolis), who ends up following new widower to the small town of Ravens Fair, where Jamie means to bury his wife.  He's also there to find out the origin of the dummy, who is revealed to be named 'Billy'.  His findings lead him to discover the tale of theatrical entertainer and ventriloquist Mary Shaw (Roberts, The Nanny Diaries) and her collection of dolls that had been buried with her upon her passing.  Something or someone connected to Shaw may be responsible for killing those families who made Mary's life so miserable. Jamie must find the root of the curse and hopes to stop it before he becomes another horrifically mutilated victim.

Outside of a few stylish visual touches by director Wan, some solid cinematography by John R. Leonetti (The Perfect Man, Honey), and an apt score from Charlie Clouser (Death Sentence, Resident Evil: Extinction), Dead Silence doesn't have much to offer to viewers who aren't weirded out by such things as sinister looking dolls and 'jack-in-the-box' moments in which characters must slowly reach out to reveal what's hidden under blankets in order to see what scary thing lies underneath.  Leigh Whannell's script is pure comic book fantasy, with thinly defined characters, a silly plot line, and high amounts of illogical events that must transpire in order to get the rather lackluster hero to continue to unearth information on the nature of the weird looking dummy and its malevolent curse.  In even the little things, it makes little sense.  For instance, are we to really to expect that Mary Shaw not only could afford to build a palatial theater in what happens to be quite a small town, but that her performances within that theater would continue to be attended by townsfolk who act like they are seeing her perform every showing for the very first time? 

With spotty acting, superficial developments, and rules that seem to be made up as the film moves along, Dead Silence is strictly only of interest to audiences who are all about scary images set to ominous music, caring far less about a good storyline to follow or characters who do or say things that might be plausible to anyone who experiences them in real life.  For example, despite feeling like the dummy is (at least indirectly) responsible for the brutal murder of his wife, Jamie takes Billy along wherever he goes like a surrogate travel companion, and even when he begins to see nightmarish visions and fears for his life, he still manages to contrive ways to have the doll in his room or riding shotgun in his car.  I guess he just wants to be creeped out whenever possible. 

Wan and Whannell make no attempts to bring plausibility into the motivations of anyone, merely expecting us to go with whatever flow they're willing to indulge in so that they can set up requisite shots of the dummy's eyes or head moving on their own, or moving about the room whenever someone's back is turned.  If you just want to have your heartbeat raised a little, it's fine; if you want to actually be entertained by a movie beyond a smattering of jump-scares at regular intervals, you're advised to look elsewhere.  Like a ventriloquist's dummy, this is a soulless, wooden entity overtly manipulated by would-be entertainers whose lips can clearly be seen moving the entire time.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo