"Automatonophobia" is what we call a fear of ventriloquist dummies, a phobia unlikely to be induced by "Dead Silence," an ostensible exercise in horror from the writing-directing team behind "Saw." What auds are far more likely to contract is a fear of ventriloquist-dummy movies, for which there is no name, and no apparent cure. Only those in a cold sweat for their weekly horror fix will bother with this formulaic and rather lazy exercise in booga-booga scare tactics.

“Automatonophobia” is what we call a fear of ventriloquist dummies, a phobia unlikely to be induced by “Dead Silence,” an ostensible exercise in horror from the writing-directing team behind “Saw.” What auds are far more likely to contract is a fear of ventriloquist-dummy movies, for which there is no name, and no apparent cure. Only those in a cold sweat for their weekly horror fix will bother with this formulaic and rather lazy exercise in booga-booga scare tactics.

To say the dummy has more personality than the live cast would be an overstatement. But with the exceptions of the underused Donnie Wahlberg (as Detective Lipton, a guy who’s constantly shaving and still looks like Yasser Arafat) and model Amber Valletta, in perhaps her biggest role yet, it’s a colorless collection of the living, while the possessed dummy resembles an Austrian waiter in a post-war Marlene Dietrich movie.

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) is actually one of the sharper characters yet seen in a horror film: The day after he receives a package containing Billy, the dummy, his wife is grotesquely murdered, and Jamie actually puts two and two together. It usually takes hours for a guy in this position to figure out that the inanimate object is causing all the mayhem. So snaps to Jamie.

Thus, it’s beyond anyone’s comprehension why he keeps dragging the little guy around instead of feeding him into the first available wood-chipper. But there are, of course, about 85 tedious minutes left in the movie.

“Dead Silence” is the type of film in which a character — such as the long-suffering Henry Walker (Michael Fairman), who knows all about Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), the demon ventriloquist murdered by the townsfolk of Ravens Fair so many years ago — sets out to dig a grave with a snow shovel. Or in which someone hands off an old-style phone receiver with no wire attached. Or in which a local movie theater is accessible only by rowboat, which Jamie, in a metaphor for something, propels with one oar.

Maybe it was the theater in which this reviewer watched “Dead Silence,” but the film is dark — not in service of a creepy tone, but in the cause of myopia-inducing eyestrain. Places look like sets; reaction shots are gratuitous (if understandable enough, when meant to give Valletta as much screen time as possible). But when a character inevitably asks, “Who’s the dummy now?,” paying customers will know the answer.

Dead Silence

Production

A Universal release of a Burg/Koules/Hoffman production. Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg. Executive producer, Peter Oillataguerre. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay, Leigh Whannell.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), John R. Leonetti; editor, Michael N. Knue; music, Charlie Clouser; production designer, Julie Berghoff; art director, Anastasia Masaro; set decorator, Christina Kuhnigk; costume designer, Denise Cronenberg; makeup, Leslie A. Sebert; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Kelly Cabral; visual effect supervisor, Aaron Weintraub; visual effects, Mr. X; stunt coordinator, Shelley Cook; assistant director, Andrew Shea; casting, Barbara Fiorentino, Rebecca Mangieri, Wendy Weidman. Reviewed at Century 8, North Hollywood, March 16, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Jamie Ashen - Ryan Kwanten Ella Ashen - Amber Valletta Detective Lipton - Donnie Wahlberg Henry Walker - Michael Fairman Marion Walker - Joan Heney Mary Shaw - Judith Roberts
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