Jamie and Lisa Ashen are a happy young couple who, on a rainy evening, find an unexpected, anonymous gift at their front door. Inside the paper- and twine-wrapped box is an antique ventriloquist dummy that they jokingly set aside. Jamie goes for take-out food ... and returns to find his wife brutally murdered. Desperate for answers, Jamie discovers a clue in the dummy's package that leads him back to his hometown of Raven's Fair, where the locals have a dark legend about a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw.
The police immediately suspect the young husband, but don't have enough evidence to arrest him. So Detective Jim Lipton follows Jamie in hopes of pinning him down. Instead, the two join forces and slowly uncover the macabre story of Shaw, an evil ventriloquist accused of killing the son of a wealthy family in the 1940s. Although the doll maker proclaimed her innocence, infuriated locals discovered her guilt and cut out her tongue. Since then, a nursery rhyme has warned of Mary's ghost seeking revenge on her attackers and their descendants. Jamie realizes that he is one of the last of that line. He also learns that, though Mary is long-dead and buried, her murderous spirit lives on in her many ventriloquist dummies.
Early on, Jamie and Lisa have a playful, loving relationship and look forward to the arrival of their child.
The story centers around a dark spiritualism, possessed dummies and a vengeful ghost. Those forces possess power here, such as when a casket tips over and the corpse falls out and becomes briefly reanimated.
In the opening scene, Lisa shows a little cleavage and cuddles into her husband. After Jamie leaves to pick up the take-out, Lisa positions the ventriloquist dummy (named Billy) on their bed in hopes of giving her husband a shock when he comes home. She tells the dummy, "If you get Jamie to scream, I'll give you seven minutes in heaven with my old Barbie doll."
A corpse is hollowed out like a ventriloquist's dummy. Several people are shown dead with a look of terror in their eyes and with gaping tongueless mouths. A mummified boy is tied up like a marionette, with ropes connected to his arms and head. Lisa is wrapped in a sheet, stabbed and thrown across the room—a bloody scene. A ghoulish-faced Mary Shaw leaps toward the camera in various "jump scenes."
Detective Lipton holds a shotgun on Jamie and later uses it to blast away at dummies animated by Mary Shaw's evil spirit. An entire room full of dolls gets set on fire by a smashed kerosene lantern. Grotesque photos show Mary's victims over the years. A small mob violently seizes Mary Shaw and it's implied that her tongue is cut out. Jamie grabs Detective Lipton by the collar and shoves him to the floor.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word. Detective Lipton is interrupted before completing an f-word. God's name is combined with "d--n." A handful of milder swear words include "h---" and "a--."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jamie plans to serve beers with dinner. Lipton smokes once.
Eerie dark rooms, loud creaking noises, sudden screams and visual jolts are the order of the day. Fame and cinematic "glory" came to director James Wan on the wings of his original slash-and-hack film Saw. Now he seems to be shooting for the perfect "chiller flick." And on paper I'm sure he felt he had a winner. From the scratchy black-and-white Universal logo to the crumbling locales—complete with creaky wooden floors, scrabbling rats, dust cloth-covered furniture and spiral staircase—all the way to the rainy, fog-shrouded cemetery, his picture is classic old-school scare. Wan even boosts the moodiness by draining all the music and sound effects out of the room (except for the ragged breathing of the victim) each time evil really gets rolling.
But Dead Silence ends up becoming far less than the sum of its parts.
Beyond telegraphing its surprises, this dead-in-the-water devil-doll movie lacks anything truly positive or redemptive. The "good guys" don't seem to have a single driving passion to make things ... good. They just stumble haplessly along, following the tug of their marionette's string toward their gruesome, formulaic doom. By the final credits, the audience realizes they've seen the director's hand up the back of this dark, bloody and pointless exercise all along. They've seen him moving his characters' lips. And they've heard him say nothing of value.