Dead Silence

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Starring Ryan Kwanten and Donnie Wahlberg. Rated 14A. For showtimes, please see page 93

Ventriloquists' dummies really creep me out. All dolls are inherently freaky, but there's something seriously bent about a little wooden man with bulging eyes, shiny cheeks, and perfect chompers. I recall being quite disturbed by Magic, the 1978 chiller that used the ventriloquism angle most effectively. Mind you, it featured a great actor (Anthony Hopkins), a great director (Richard Attenborough), and a great screenwriter (William Goldman). Dead Silence has none of these, although the costume designer, David Cronenberg's sister Denise, kicks ass.

The unimpressive Ryan Kwanten stars as Jamie Ashen, a shaggy-haired young dude who has a large package delivered to him at the apartment he shares with his new bride, Lisa (Laura Regan of TV's Saving Jessica Lynch). To their surprise and confusion, the package holds a case containing a ventriloquist's dummy. While Jamie dashes out to pick up Chinese food, the mischievous Lisa places the uninvited guest under a sheet on their bed and says: “If you make Jamie scream, I'll let you have seven minutes alone in heaven with my old Barbie.” As punishment for that corny dialogue, the dummy's mouth drops open, the apartment falls eerily silent, and Lisa is viciously attacked by something.

Jamie returns minutes later to discover his beloved dead, frozen in terror with her tongue ripped out, and the takeout goes to waste while he's grilled by a jaded cop (Donnie Wahlberg, the jaded cop from Saw II and Saw III). Although he's the only suspect in the grisly murder, Jamie is released, and he quickly retrieves the dummy from the crime scene and heads to his sleepy hometown of Raven's Fair, where murders involving a ventriloquist took place ages ago. Hmmm.

Rather than stow the dummy in the sizable trunk of his Cutlass Supreme, Jamie sits it in the front seat, so he can spend the entire trip imagining its creepy peepers shifting his way. When he books into a motel, he places the dummy upright in a chair, assuring that he'll be scared shitless by it in the middle of the night. Brain-dead actions such as these give the film a bogus vibe long before Jamie pulls into Raven's Fair and encounters legendary evil—and 100 more possessed dummies.

The scariest thing about Dead Silence is the realization that the little wooden men are as fleshed out as the cookie-cutter characters and flimsy plot. More—the dummies are three-dimensional, at least.