Dead Silence

2007, Movie, R, 0 mins


James Wan and Leigh Whannell's follow-up to their inventively sadistic SAW (2004) adds to a small but vivid horror subgenre: The living doll picture, in which a mannequin/dummy/child's plaything develops an eerie and inevitably malevolent life all its own. Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa Ashen (Laura Regan) are spending a quiet evening at home in their modest apartment when there's a knock on the door. When Jamie checks, there's no one outside, but there is a box addressed to him, with no return address. It contains an old theatrical case and a worn ventriloquist's dummy. Creepy! Jamie nonetheless goes out to pick up something for dinner and returns to find Lisa dead and mutilated, her tongue ripped out. Worse still, police detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) thinks he's the killer. Grief-stricken and furious that Lipton dismisses the mysterious dummy as irrelevant to the murder, Jamie arranges to have Lisa's body shipped back to his hometown — Ravens Fair, a town so haunted all the apostrophes have long since run away — for burial, intending to look into a local legend involving a murdered ventriloquist named Mary Shaw. After an awkward meeting with his estranged, incredibly wealthy father (Bob Gunton), recently debilitated by a stroke, and Dad's new wife, lemon tart Ella (Amber Valletta), Jamie starts poking around in matters better left alone. And everyone knows where that leads. Wan is a stylish filmmaker, and DEAD SILENCE is visually inventive: The town is full of maps that flick to animated life, reflecting Jamie's travels around town; the backgrounds fade into near black-and-white drear; and Wan pays homage to his idol, Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento, by staging a striking homage to the underwater ballroom sequence in INFERNO (1980). And there are no two ways about it: A chubby-cheeked dummy doing stuff it shouldn't be doing is spooky stuff. But Wan isn't on such sure footing with his actors — Wahlberg is stilted as the tough-guy cop, and Kwanten is blandly uninteresting. Even at a brisk 90 minutes, the story still feels painfully attenuated. And there's a little too much of people looking nervously around and whispering, "No one around here says Mary Shaw's name," apparently oblivious to the fact that they're saying it right now. Shhhhhhhh! leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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