Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Fairman
“Can you help me with a missing persons case? I’m looking for a male. About this tall. Sometimes seen with a hand up his ass.” (Detective Lipton, Dead Silence)
Dolls are creepy, that’s one thing many of us can agree on. Some of them look like they can come alive when you’re not watching. Ventriloquist dummies – those built for the sole purpose of being made to look alive by their owner – are particularly eerie in this respect. I’m certain that’s more or less the sole concept behind Dead Silence, a concept its creators were happy to run with until they realised they actually needed to build a film around it.
Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa are very much in love. As Jamie’s heading off to work he notices that someone has left a mysterious package outside their front door. He opens it to find a ventriloquist’s dummy, with no note explaining who sent it or why it’s been sent to them. Jamie decides he’ll figure it out later and leaves the doll at home with Lisa. When he returns he finds his wife lying dead in bed with her tongue ripped out. Bloody FedEx eh?
It soon emerges that the doll once belonged to Mary Shaw, a famous ventriloquist who was mocked one day in front of a huge audience by a young boy. Shaw kidnapped the boy and he was never seen again, and after realising she’d done it the townsfolk tracked her down and attacked her, ripping her tongue out.
Yes, not content with borrowing from Child’s Play, Dolls and any other killer doll film ever made, Dead Silence also owes a suspiciously large chunk of its plot to A Nightmare On Elm Street with its whole “vigilante parents kill evil child catcher who continues to haunt their children from beyond the grave” plot. Not to mention it even has its own children’s rhyme, though “beware the stare of Mary Shaw” isn’t quite as catchy as “one, two, Freddy’s coming for you”.
Dead Silence is very much style over substance. There is a steady stream of wanky pseudo-arty shots throughout, where maps become wide shots of the road and eyes are zoomed in to reveal an image of the next scene. And no matter how many times they do it (which is a lot), they just can’t seem to make a shot of a doll slowly moving its eyes feel that creepy.
The film has two saving graces. The first is Donnie Wahlberg, who plays the cop following Jamie as he investigates his wife’s murder. Wahlberg’s character is naturally suspicious of Jamie’s claims that the doll killed his wife, and he consistently gets the best lines in the film as he aims snarky and sarcastic comments Jamie’s way as he tries to find evidence that will pin the crime on him.
The other decent aspect is the twist ending, which makes sense and is cleverly handled. You’re likely to have suspicions about the characters in question before the ending is revealed, but it’s unlikely you’d guess exactly what’s been going on. It’s a nice little twist and one that brings a satisfying end to what’s essentially a fairly forgettable film.