Dead Silence

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Dead Silence."

NEW YORK -- From its vintage, '40s era Universal Studios into to its old-fashioned ghost story and elegant visual style, "Dead Silence" displays a retro quality that's rather unexpected coming from the director-screenwriter of "Saw." This tale of a ventriloquist's dummy wreaking murderous havoc on the relatives of those who murdered his partner decades earlier boasts nothing new under the sun, but it does provide a few decent scares. It will however, be best appreciated by those who haven't seen "Dead of Night." Or "Magic." Or any of the Chucky movies, for that matter. The film opened Friday, naturally without being screened for critics.

The opening scenes introduce us to a young married couple, James (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa (Laura Regan), who receive an unlabeled package containing an ominous-looking vintage dummy. After the obligatory comic banter, hubby leaves to pick up some take-out food and, well, things don't go well for the wife.

Finding himself the chief suspect in her murder, James, trailed by a suspicious cop (Donnie Wahlberg), flees to his quaint home town of Ravens Fair. He reunites with his long-estranged father (Bob Gunton) -- now a virtual invalid living with a beautiful new bride (Amber Valletta) -- and learns about the legend of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), an elderly female ventriloquist from decades earlier who, as town lore has it, reappears from the dead and removes the tongues of anyone who sees her and screams.

Attempting to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the town's elderly mortician (Michael Fairman), James soon finds himself dealing not only with Mary's ubiquitous dummy but the ghost of the old girl herself.

Leigh Whannell's script, based on a story he wrote with director James Wan, is fairly routine stuff, with its idea of character development being the detective's compulsive shaving habit. But apart from a wholly unnecessary twist ending more appropriate to the "Saw" franchise, it does provide a decent framework for spookiness. Director Wan demonstrates that he's equally effective working in a more classical vein, especially with his skillful use of chilling low-key sound effects and silence in several scary sequences.

While Kwanten proves to be a bland protagonist, there are several effective supporting turns, including Wahlberg's wisecracking cop and Roberts' creepy ventriloquist (as if there was any other kind).

DEAD SILENCE
Universal Pictures
A Burg/Koules/Hoffman production
Credits:
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Story: James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Producers: Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg
Executive producer: Peter Oillataguerre
Director of photography: John R. Leonetti
Production designer: Julie Berghoff
Editor: Michael N. Knue
Music: Charlie Clouser
Cast:
James Ashen: Ryan Kwanten
Ella Ashen: Amber Valletta
Detective Lipton: Donnie Wahlberg
Edward Ashen: Bob Gunton
Henry: Michael Fairman
Mary Shaw: Judith Roberts
Lisa Ashen: Laura Regan
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: R 

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