"Awww, I won't let the scary doll get you." -- Ella
Ever since I was a kid, I've thought ventriloquist dummies were creepy little buggers. This mainly has to do, I think, with my having seen the movie Magic, where Anthony Hopkins plays a guy who thinks his dummy is alive, and it starts killing people. That and their flat, lifeless eyes . . . always staring . . . waiting . . .
Ah, anyway, that meant that Dead Silence, a movie about a ghost ventriloquist and her evil dummies ripping out people's tongues should have been right up my alley. It's even from the same pair who brought us the Saw series, so they know how to bring the fear.
The movie is also stuffed with a host of "oh! It's that guy!" character actors, including Michael (Firefly's Adelai Niska) Fariman and Bob (Shawshank Redemption/Demolition Man) Gunton. Not to mention Donnie (Saw 2/3) Wahlberg's turning in another performance as a police detective, so there's some good acting in the movie.
There are also some very creepy shots of cars rolling in the fog, midnight visits to overgrown graveyards and a crumbling 1930s theater. Not to mention a nicely spooky score, and a good mystery behind everything, as all ghost stories need.
So what I can't figure out is why the movie didn't grab me.
The plot: Ryan (Flicka) Kwanten is Jamie Ashen. He and his wife have left their small hometown of Raven's Fair for a life together in the big city. One evening, someone drops off a package with no return address on their front door. Inside is an antique ventriloquist dummy. The ensuing marionette mayhem drives Jamie, and Detective Jim Lipton (Wahlberg) back to Raven's Fair.
With the help of his estranged father Edward (Gunton), and funeral director Henry Walker (Fariman), Jamie slowly uncovers the story of Mary (Judith Roberts) Shaw, who came to an unseemly end back in the ‘40s. What exactly happened to her, along with why she rips people's tongues out when they scream, is the mystery that drives our ghostly voice-tosser and her little dolls.
Now, as I said earlier, there are a lot of good bits in Dead Silence. The cinematography is fantastic, including some great shots of our spooky theater, the graveyard, and a few cute bits where the camera zooms in on a map which comes to life as an overhead view of the area. Another good bit is that every time Mary or her dolls are about to show up, everything goes almost, well, dead silent, only tiny creeks and squeaks of wood echoing in the vast quiet. Then there's Mary herself, who is very cool and creepy looking.
The movie also gets points for one other bit, where Jamie is beckoned closer to something dangerous, and Detective Lipton keeps saying "Don't do it!" and shaking his head. Finally, there's someone acting sensible in a horror movie! Except, of course, he went to Raven's Fair, which is definitely the sticks. Stay out of the backwoods, people! How often do I have to beat this drum?
But despite everything that Dead Silence has going for it, somehow it just doesn't gel together for me. When it was over, I just wasn't satisfied. Yes, the movie had good acting, some cool visuals, a few good scares, and the story didn't have any really glaring holes, but it just felt incomplete. It doesn't help that Wan and Whannell have once again relied on an end montage that shows you all the clues you either did or didn't pick up on to explain everything.
The other strike is that Billy, the dummy, sounds like Wallace "Vizzini" Shawn. Having his "inconceivable!" echoing in my head did detract a bit from the flick's frights.
So while I kind of liked Dead Silence, I can't really recommend it except as a matinee or DVD rental. It might play a lot better on TV than it does in the theater.
Oh, and let me answer the one burning question that I'm sure most of you have been skimming along this review to see, especially if you've been reading this site since the Zealot.com days. Yes, the movie has a HUTA joke. Just not a very good one.
Maybe that was the problem.