Dead Silence (R) ★★

Review Date: March 21st, 2007

If you're jonesing for the next Saw, Dead Silence, from the franchise's creators, oughtta be enough to hold you over. And that was apparently the extent of the ambition here—just enough.


Like Mom always said, never talk to strangers and never accept a package containing a vintage ventriloquist dummy unless you know who sent it. Sadly, young married couple James (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa (Laura Regan) ignore the latter piece of advice and pay dearly for it. While James is out picking up dinner, Lisa makes their pintsized doll feel right at home. When James returns home, however, he finds his pretty wife has been fatally, well, doll-handled. Thus begins a full-scale truth mission for new widower James: He seeks to prove the doll's guilt and his innocence in Lisa's homicide, as well as learning of the doll's origins. He heads to Ravens Fair, a small town of (apparently) perpetual nightfall and low-hanging fog—a literal and figurative ghost town. With a suspicious cop (Donnie Wahlberg) tracing his every step, James finds out about the doll's, er, mother, Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), and her fondness for silence. And that this doll is one tough, resilient S.O.B.!


In a movie about ghosts and such, it's fitting that The Office star John Krasinski's doppelganger (or long-lost twin) is the lead actor. Up-and-coming actor Kwanten (Flicka) is serviceable and wears the crucial "Where have I seen this dude before?" look quite well, but he's hardly anyone you'll remember after the movie. And if he has hopes of consistently landing roles beyond the scope of teen-aimed TV dramas and low-budget movies, he'll have to up the liveliness of his performances. Outdoing him are basically all of the remaining G-list actors, starting with Saw mainstay Wahlberg, an actor who seems oddly cozy atop the bottom of the Hollywood totem pole. As the constantly shaving Det. Lipton, Wahlberg at least livens up the proceedings a bit in contrast to his screenmate Kwanten. As Kwanten's brand new stepmom, model-turned-actress Amber Valletta (Hitch) also becomes a piece of the puzzle. The creepiest performances, though, come from the old timers (veterans Michael Fairman and Joan Heney as a mortician and his tortured wife), the dead (Roberts as the ghostly Mary Shaw in flashbacks), and the seemingly inanimate (that damn doll!).


If Saw masterminds Leigh Whannell and James Wan really want to go all progressive-horror on us, they might want to try an actual silent film. That would've been doubly beneficial here, because not only is their latest effort an homage to yesteryear's similar horror tales (complete with stock-footage scenes and the ancient Universal Studios company logo sequence), but also because the dialogue is atrocious and a silent Silence might have actually worked better. The writing, from Wan and Whannell, is not without its clever twists and the direction, from Wan, boasts some genuinely disturbing images, even when you expect it—but any number of their Hollywood peers can scare up a few screams here and there. In the end, these guys don't do much more than merely perpetuate the Chucky (from the Child's Play movies) theory: Dolls can be scary! And Silence is but a cheap stopgap between their annual Saw movies.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.