Dead Silence

Director: James Wan

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The unoriginal opening theme for Dead Silence (2007) is pretty much a variant of John Carpenter's theme for Halloween, set to a montage of images on the making of a ventriloquist's dummy, rendered visually bizarre.

Dead SilenceThis credit sequence ends & then the quality of the cinematography, as well as the soundscape, drops a little, & the intrusively ordinary acting eradicates the intitial impression of a higher quality film.

Still, as dumb commercial horror goes it's well done. It's even cool & creepy when the initial dummy arrives by mysterious delivery in its velvet-lined miniature coffin.

Young wife Lila (Amber Valleta) tries to take a liking to the antique doll but right away it's like an infection in the household, capable of movement on its own, altering & eventually eradicating sound from this young woman's life, before killing her in a sleezy slasher sequence with a pay-off of facial disfigurement. It's definitely not a class act, but it has trash horror pinache.

Lila's character had been slight because she was there primarily as victim number one, but she was on screen long enough to be mistaken for a protagonist, & by the time we're asked to accept husband Jaimie (Ryan Kwanten) as the primary lead, it's too late to care. The tale continues to waffle between cheap & cheezy slasher FX, & genuinely effecting mood-horror, each aspect diminishing the other.

The ghost of the ventriloquist, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), is a witch-like old woman, & the only interesting piece of casting. Jamie returns to the town where he grew up & where his crippled father Edward (Bob Ginton) still lives, married to Ella (Laura Regan) his bizarrely cheerful May bride. This hometown was where Mary Shaw once lived & had an completely improbable vaudeville house out in the swamp.

We're introduced to a couple guilt-ridden elderly characters, the coronor & his mad wife (Michael Fairman & Joan Heny) who get to chew scenery like desparate hams on their way to being offed by the doll-curse of Mary Shaw.

Dead SilenceMeanwhile a police officer (Donnie Wahlberg) has followed Jaimie to the small town convinced he's the killer, though he'll be unhappy to learn differently since all characters exist for the slash moments which are numerous.

Jamie sets out to solve the mystery & lay the ghost of Mary Shaw though not in time to save anyone's life. A lot happens either to pad out the film, or to be colorfully sicko scene by scene, but it comes off as shtick, not story.

In a flashback we see Shaw's vaudeville act when her theater was in its glory days. The act was so-so. A child heckles from the audience, "I can see her lips move!" Billy, Shaw's primary dummy, takes crazed umbrage to the allegation he's just a dummy whose mother gives him voice.

A week later the heckling kid disappeared. Not long after that the villagers do her in a la Freddy Kreuger, & so begins the curse against all the lineages of every family involved in the village's secret vigillantism.

There's one good set in the film, the ruin of the theater in the swamp called Lost Lake, CGI for the entrance, a grubby gothic interior, strikingly lit for shadowiness & atmosphere. If only Hammer Films had had sets this nicely designed!

A film that spurts more & more gore at every turn needs something else if it's to "build" to anything since all the "big" gags are already rendered tiresome. Therefore instead of one ventriloquist dummy there turns out to be a great many of them. The big "reveal" of 101 dalmations, I mean dummies, provides one momentarily nice image, but there's not much of a pay-off as we never see this army of dummies do anything.

The final startling revelation will be the meaning of "the perfect puppet," with so much creepiness heaped on creepy that the last twenty minutes of puppet terrors gets a lot more rivetting than anything leading up to that point. But by the time of this long series of climactic moments, a viewer just might have forgotten how mediocre it all was reaching this point, & for the last fifth of the film even the acting seems improved.

Dead Silence is a good film for horror fans already accustomed to both the weaknesses & strengths of B-horror. But it's not apt to overcome the disinterest of viewers not already enamored of "good" bad movies.

Continue to the next ventriloquist:
Dead of Night (1945)

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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