‘Who's the dummy now?' You really want an honest answer?

Dead Silence

on March 16, 2007 by Chad Greene
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In the mood for a little mindless mayhem? Then the most horrifying thing about the opening of Dead Silence is that it requires — gasp! — reading. The latest thriller from the creators of the Saw franchise begins with the etymology of “ventriloquist” scrolling across the screen, informing audiences the term is a combination of the Latin words for “stomach” and “speech.”

Sadly, the former reference is about as close as Dead Silence comes to producing any visceral chills. Know that line from the childish rhyme in its trailers about how the ghost of a belligerent “belly talker” will rip your tongue out if you scream? Let's just say you'll probably be leaving the theater with your sense of taste intact — at least literally.

Vocabulary words aside, the closest thing to a lesson in James Wan and Leigh Whannell's latest is that if an unseen messenger hand-delivers a creepy ventriloquist dummy to your doorstep, don't open the box, even — no especially — if your name is scrawled across the brown-paper wrapper in old-fashioned calligraphy.

The name here, specifically, is “Jamie Ashen” (Ryan Kwanten, Flicka ), a young husband who returns from a fast-food-and-flower run to find himself a young widower, seeing as how the demented dummy and its spectral speaker have — you guessed it — ripped his wife's tongue out.

Needless to say, the deadpan detective (Donnie Wahlberg, Saw III ) assigned to the case doesn't believe there's any credible connection between the weird dummy and the mysterious murder, but you'd think he'd at least confiscate it as evidence. Instead, “Billy” — whose name is conveniently carved into the back of his neck — is soon riding shotgun on Jamie's trip back to his rundown hometown to bury his wife and dig up the truth about the decades-old murder of the village ventriloquist, Mary Shaw, and his own family's role in it. (It's hard to say which one of the two, the doll or the leading man, is more wooden.)

Stylishly shot, Dead Silence is ultimately undone by not only amateurish acting but also DOA dialogue. At one point, the evil ventriloquist quips “Now who's the dummy?” By the time the Saw -it-coming-a-mile-away final twist unreels, anyone paying full price for this sluggish slaughter-fest might feel like raising his or her hand. Distributor: Universal
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg and Bob Gunton
Director: James Wan
Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell
Producers: Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules and Mark Burg
Genre: Supernatural thriller
Rating: R for horror violence and images
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: March 16, 2007

Tags: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Bob Gunton, James Wan Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell, Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Supernatural thriller
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