Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: James Wan

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

MPAA Rating: R (for horror violence and images)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 3/16/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Dead Silence was not screened for critics, according to Universal Studios, to keep the "twist ending from leaking." I find that incredibly funny, and if you happen to see the movie, you will too. This is a movie that telegraphs its final surprise within 15 minutes of its start. It's blatant—really, really blatant. So blatant, in fact, there's no reason to leak it, and the attempt to hide it goes to show how dumb some people in the movie industry think the general public is. No, Dead Silence was hidden from critics because it's bad, and the studio knows it. What can one make from a horror movie with most of its scares relying on the eyes of a ventriloquist dummy? Some people might find dummies scary; I don't. When they're used like this, the blank-faced dolls are actually quite amusing. Not only is the movie inherently ridiculous because of its premise and pointless because of its laughably obvious surprise, it also has a script and style that suits its premise and twist perfectly.

A happily married young couple is getting ready for dinner. Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) is attempting to fix the sink so he can cook his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) a nice meal, but it seems takeout is the only option left. There's a knock on their apartment door, and an unmarked package has been left at the doorstep. Inside is an old ventriloquist dummy, and as is typically advisable when receiving a mysterious, unmarked package, they keep the dummy, Lisa propping it up on their bed. Jamie runs out to pick up their dinner, and as Lisa wanders around their apartment, the sounds begin to fade away, leaving her in—dun-dun-dun—dead silence. Hearing laughter coming from the bedroom, she discovers the doll covered by a sheet. When she lifts it, she screams, and we cut to Jamie grabbing their dinner. He returns to find puddles of blood on the floor. For some reason not thinking anything horrible has happened, he discovers his wife's body, her tongue ripped out. The detective on the case Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) obviously thinks he's a suspect, and Jamie doesn't help his case by leaving the city for his hometown to investigate the dummy.

The town is Ravens Fair, which apparently has a population of five: the unseen motel manager, the mortician (Michael Fairman), his crazy wife (Joan Heney), Jamie's father (Bob Gunton), and his new stepmother (Amber Valletta). Not much has happened since Jamie left town, except that the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist named Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) has killed off most of Jamie's family. Shaw was a ventriloquist accused of kidnapping and murdering a young critic of her show, and, in the custom of members of small towns jumping wildly to conclusions, a group of townsfolk cut out her tongue and killed her. The mortician tells Jamie the tale of Mary Shaw or, as he somberly, absurdly intones, "The ventriloquist who lost her voice" (that's a career-ender if I ever heard one). He also warns the wayward son that "If you go looking for answers, you just might find them," and that Shaw "won't stop killing until the screaming stops." Sure. Shaw's new trick is to appear, scare a person into screaming, and then whisking them away, returning them sans tongue. If a potential victim of hers yawns or laughs, does she do the same thing? A mouth-breather would be completely screwed.

It's entirely silly, obviously, and even more so when you realize that Jamie carries that stupid dummy everywhere he goes so that it can give him a shifty-eyed glance when he's not looking (best of all is when the dummy rides shotgun). Also, the sight of Bob Gunton dressed in a tuxedo while in a wheelchair, looking like a dummy himself, is amusing. Boy, that new wife of his is really controlling. And Shaw's apartment seems to be up in the rusty rafters of the town's abandoned theater only so that there can be a scene where people hang from them whilst escaping her ghost. Before that, though, Jamie leans in toward the face of a clown doll—at its request—to hear one of Shaw's secrets, and the moment, in all its earnestness, is hilarious beyond belief. Director James Wan does make a few notable attempts here. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti films with all the colors toned down, except, of course, for red, to give the movie a feeling of the old black-and-white Universal horror shows, and Wan starts to achieve a sense of tension in the movie's moments of silence. He ruins it every time with silly shots of dolls moving their eyes, though.

Dead Silence is not scary and works best as a comedy. Its thankfully short 90 minutes graciously breeze by, and horror fans will be shocked at its R rating (the filmmakers were obviously going for a PG-13 and missed). It's a good thing the ghost of Mary Shaw doesn't go after yawners, because if she were roaming around the theater, I'd be screwed.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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