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MOVIE REVIEW

'Dead Silence' can leave you a little dumbfounded

Ventriloquism-themed film seems pulled from the big book of 'Horror Films for Dummies.'

March 19, 2007|Ed Gonzalez | Special to The Times

"You are forcing me to use the word 'perplexed,' " remarks Donnie Wahlberg's investigator in James Wan's "Dead Silence," reacting to a preposterous excuse Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) gives him for why he didn't kill his wife. But "inexplicable" is more like it. Beginning with Wan's appropriation of the 1930s Universal Pictures logo and an introductory lesson in Latin derivation (venter = belly, hence ventriloquist, the subject of the movie), "Dead Silence" piles on its befuddlements.

The movies have always asked us to suspend our disbelief, but "Dead Silence" demands our ignorance of its own derivations. A conflation of the horror genre's laziest tropes, plot angles and shorthands, this inept creation isn't so much a film as it is a smorgasbord.

Why does Jamie decide to bury Lisa ("They's" Laura Regan) in Raven's Fair, the backwoods town of his youth, if she had no connection to the place? Why does the funeral director's wife talk to a stuffed crow? Why does Jamie's stepmother (Amber Valetta) look as if she might be related to Mary Shaw, the long-dead ventriloquist who seems to have borrowed her ax-to-grind from Freddy Krueger? Why did I want to pull the hair out of my head while watching the film? Answers to these and other questions are as scarce as ozone in this mess, which follows Jamie's attempts to play Hardy Boy in Raven's Fair -- its destitution rendered in shoddy computer-generated imagery -- after Det. Jim Lipton (Wahlberg) naturally scoffs at the idea that the puppet that appeared on his doorstep was responsible for Lisa's death.

His name is Billy, No. 57 in a 100-plus doll collection buried alongside Mary Shaw in Raven's Fair cemetery, where Jamie deposits the thing (in the dead of night, naturally) only to see it return to him inside his motel room. Mary Shaw, by way of Billy, attacks only in dead silence. More specifically: No one gets their tongue ripped out until the score, all foley sounds and other Dolby-enhanced sonic twittering have vanished from the soundtrack. Which is to say, not until the world within the film sounds as it might in real life. Apparently this is a scary proposition for someone like Wan, whose concept of reality seems grounded in the noisy rhetoric and nonsensicalities of movies like "Darkness Falls."

Amusingly, and a little apropos, Jigsaw's tricycle-riding dolly from the first (and worst) "Saw" makes a crucial appearance. By then, audiences will probably be too annoyed by the banalities Wan asks us to confuse with novelty to notice the little creep, but those who discover this reject from the film that put Wan on the cine-map will appreciate it as a metaphor for everything his new film represents: desperate and unjustifiable self-satisfaction.

*

"Dead Silence." MPAA rating: R for horror violence and images. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.

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