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by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & Dead Silence & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hat Dead Silence lacks in plot, it compensates for by eliciting sheer fear.





Jamie and Ella Ashen (Ryan Kwanten and Amber Vallata) are young and happily married. It's a dark and stormy night -- with rain actually falling in torrents -- when the couple unexpectedly receive a suspicious large gift containing no shipping information.





They should definitely open it.





Unsurprisingly, the package contains a ventriloquist's doll in a miniature casket. (Think there's any chance the doll will plague the young marrieds for the rest of the flick?) When Jamie leaves to pick up dinner, bad things happen. Jamie even becomes the prime suspect in a murder case. He'd better deal with the matter solo.





So he returns to his hometown of Raven's Ferry, in search of answers and, perhaps, vengeance. He learns that Mary Shaw, a deceased ventriloquist, has been terrorizing the city for decades and may be a murderer. Shaw herself was callously murdered years ago, and now she's getting hers by stealing the tongues of innocent victims.





She even has her own theme song: "Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children, only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams, do not ever, ever scream." Decent advice, actually. Shaw wins, the protagonist loses, and the movie ends. Sounds like a typical horror movie, right?





Right. But I only mentioned the scary parts. While James Wan, director of Saw, has a knack for producing unadulterated horror, and while Silence had me habitually searching my living room for the ghost of Mary Shaw, the farcical side of this film is arguably more chilling than its scary bits. The music of Charlie Clouser (who also did the gut-wrenching tunes for Saw) gives this farce some soul. And even with a pathetic plot line, Wan pulls off a decent screamer.





With merely average acting throughout, though -- and with Donnie Wahlberg delivering a forgettable performance as a detective -- Dead Silence turns out as just another slasher pic. It's a movie that lacks a message, but it'll make you check your closet before you go to bed.

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