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Film / Dead Silence

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Beware the stare of Mary Shaw.
She had no children, only dolls.
And if you see her in your dreams,
make sure you never, ever scream,
or she'll rip your tongue out at the seam.

Dead Silence is a 2007 horror film from James Wan and Leigh Whannell, previously known for directing and writing the first three Saw films. It has less Gorn, but the chilling horror that this film provides covers the loss.

The movie tells the story of Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten), who receives an anonymous package containing a ventriloquist doll named Billy. Shortly after, he goes to run a quick errand, leaving his wife (Laura Regan) alone in the house with the doll. When he returns, he finds his wife dead and mutilated with her tongue torn out. Police suspect Jamie as her murderer. When he journeys to his hometown of Raven's Fair (taking the doll with him) to bury his wife and to find some answers, they send Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) to spy on him.

Jamie arrives to his home where he finds his aging father, Edward (Bob Gunton), has remarried to a young blonde named Ella (Amber Valleta). She reminds him of an old poem that told about Mary Shaw, a murdered ventriloquist who seeks revenge, killing and ripping out the tongues of anyone who screams upon seeing her ghost. After getting more disturbing information and warnings, Jamie decides to bury the doll, hoping this will end his torture.

To say that things go downhill from there doesn't even begin to cover it...

Not to be confused with the 2022 book.

Warning: Some unmarked spoilers below.

Dead Silence provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Jamie's father Edward is implied to have been both this and a Domestic Abuser in the past.
  • Actor Allusion: Donnie Wahlberg plays a character named Lipton. He also plays another detective in a film/franchise with Leigh Whannell's involvement.
  • Aside Glance: Billy does this quite a few times when no one's watching him.
  • Asshole Victim: From the moment he was shown on the screen, we all knew that Detective Jim Lipton will get what's coming to him before the end credits start rolling. Edward Ashen could also be considered an example - although we don't actually see what he was like prior to the events of the movie, it is heavily implied that he was a total dick to Jamie and his numerous wives.
  • Ax-Crazy: Mary Shaw, considering that she murdered a child for irritating her during a performance, and it only gets worse after her death.
  • Badass Boast: A child in the audience heckles her act by pointing out the movement of her lips, and an argument between her and Billy ensues on stage that would put the best ventriloquist to shame. After roaring applause from the crowd subsides, she glares at the boy and asks, "Now... Who's the dummy?"
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Jim Lipton to the core. Lazy, stubborn and violent jerkass.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Not terribly surprising considering this movie's predecessor is Saw, but nevertheless. Mary Shaw succeeds in killing Jamie, therefore finally ending the Ashen family line.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Henry tells Jamie "If you go looking for answers, you just might find them."
  • Berserk Button: "I can see her lips moving!"
  • Best Served Cold: Mary waits decades to kill some of the people in her revenge scheme. And seemingly waits until Jamie is grown with a pregnant wife before striking. And kills Henry after he's an old man after apparently leaving him alone for decades.
  • Big "NO!": This is what seal's Jamie's fate in the theatrical ending. Could be considered an example of Despair Event Horizon.
  • Body Horror:
    • The most unlucky victims of Mary Shaw end up as ventriloquist dolls themselves. Mary Shaw herself is partly one due to her last wish.
    • Look at Mary Shaw's tongue, it is made from dozens of other tongues stuck together, tongues of her victims.
  • The Cameo: Another dummy, who is aptly named Billy can be seen among the others.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Mary Shaw turned Michael Ashen into a doll because he claimed to see her lips moving during her act. Never mind that she immediately won the crowd back afterwards.
  • Character Tic: Lipton shaving himself with an electric razor at inappropriate times.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mary Shaw's scrapbook.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Marion. It's uncertain if she is insane or senile (or perhaps a bit of both).
  • The Coroner: Henry is the latest in a long line of coroners.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Marion was very justified in her fear of Mary Shaw.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Good lord, is it ever with the reveal that Mary Shaw not only killed Jamie's wife, but in a sense, killed their unborn baby, all to get back at the Ashen family for killing her.
  • Dead All Along: Edward, who's apparently been dead this whole time and turned into the trope below.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lipton.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: Michael Ashen ends up as a marionette made from his own body. Edward is later revealed to have been turned into a ventriloquist dummy. Mary also requested in her will that her corpse be turned into a puppet.
  • Demonic Dummy:
    • Even though Billy is the doll shown throughout most of the film and he is also an example, the clown doll in the rocking chair is one of the most horrifying dolls in movie history...ever. It certainly doesn't help that it looks like Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It. Nor does the fact that Mary Shaw decided to stick her ridiculously long tongue through it.
    • Edward is extremely creepy as a doll only from behind. This extends to the other two corpses made into dolls, as well.
  • Demonic Possession: The film was originally going to have a different take on Ella - the alternate ending and a deleted scene shows Ella as a regular human woman, who, after losing her and Edward's unborn child after he pushed her down the stairs, was drawn to Mary Shaw's resting place and ended up becoming possessed by her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Some young, bratty child heckles you during one of your ventriloquist shows? Kill him and turn him into a puppet!
    • Mary Shaw's entire plan for revenge, really. Violently murdering the people who killed you is bad enough, but dedicating your afterlife to eliminating their entire bloodline is just abominable all because they killed you for (correctly) assuming you murdered said kid of the family bloodline all because he heckled you.
  • Downer Ending: Mary Shaw succeeded in killing off the Ashen family line, with Jamie being saved for last.
    • The alternate ending was no better, despite Jamie still being alive, though unresponsive.
  • The Dragon: In a manner of speaking: Billy is the dummy we see the most in the film. Mary Shaw appears to have favored him in life, and most of the scares involve him somehow. Not surprising, considering how creepy he is; he's the one on the above poster.
  • The Dreaded: The people of Raven's Fair fear Mary Shaw, even years after her death. They refuse to speak her name, and one of the reasons Lipton doesn't buy Jamie's story is because no one in the town appears to have heard of her. Jamie counters that the townspeople have—- they're just that afraid of her.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Henry, despite having previously survived an encounter with Mary Shaw by stopping himself from screaming, gets himself killed when he screams at the top of his lungs after she pulls a cheap Jump Scare on him.
  • Dying Town: Raven's Fair is mostly going out of business when Jamie drives through it, and seems to have roughly six inhabitants, half of whom end up dead, already dead, or probably dead by the end of the movie.
  • Easter Egg: Jigsaw can be seen lying against a wall when Jamie and Lipton are exploring the theater.
  • Evil Genius: Mary Shaw made her own dummies that would require considerable skill in woodwork and artistic design, and a general understanding of human anatomy. Turning people into dummies would also seem to require some knowledge in human biology.
  • Evil Laugh: Mary Shaw gives one while talking through her Monster Clown dummy.
  • Evil Old Folks: Mary Shaw, prior to becoming a ghost.
  • Eye Motifs: Occurs throughout the movie, but the most obvious example: at the end of the opening montage of Mary Shaw hand-crafting Billy, the camera zooms into Billy's pupil, and ends on Jamie's eye viewed through a sink drain.
  • Facial Horror: The faces of Mary Shaw's victims are frozen in tongueless, twisted, gruesome screams.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the burning down of the theatre, Mary Shaw materializes behind Michael Ashen's puppet/corpse, and pursues Jamie and Lipton. It doesn't seem like much at first, but later on we see that people she's turned into dummies/puppets also work as a Soul Jar for her, just like her other dummies.
    • Right before Lisa’s death, there’s a moment where she briefly puts a throw pillow under her shirt and looks at herself in the mirror. It just looks like her goofing off a little, but it becomes a lot harsher when it’s revealed that she was pregnant.
  • Game Face: During the climax, Mary Shaw attempts to materialize and attack Jamie and Lipton through her "children." The signs that she is about to do so are the dolls' faces morphing into her own.
  • Genre Blindness: Lisa's downfall: She and Jamie receive a mysterious package containing a creepy dummy, which makes her remember an old ghost story she heard as a kid, and she decides to ''keep it''.
  • Ghostly Goals: Mary Shaw wishes to "silence all those who silenced [her]."
  • Gorn: Generally avoided, but the faces of Mary's victims and Edward's hollowed-out corpse are definite examples.
  • Harmful to Minors: As a child, Henry had to deal with the trauma of seeing Mary Shaw's corpse - and, to make matters worse, he saw it after the modifications had been made. She then gets up and starts walking towards him...
  • Hope Spot: Jamie has destroyed all of Mary's dolls apart from Billy. He tracks Billy down and throws him into the fire. Now all of Mary's dolls are destroyed, everything is going to be just fine- no, sorry, the dolls she made from corpses do count. And Edward is one of them. And Ella is the "perfect doll".
  • Horror Hates a Rulebreaker: The antagonist (the murderous ghost of a female ventriloquist) can't kill someone if they don't scream first. She does NOT make it easy to keep silent.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Raven's Fair.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune:
    • Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children, only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams, be sure you never, ever scream. Or she'll cut your tongue out at the seam.
    • Mary also hums "Ring Around The Rosy" at various points.
  • Jerkass: Lipton spends most of the time harassing Jamie because of his assumption that Jamie killed his wife, despite the fact he has no evidence to support this theory, and confiscates Billy, which is an important clue, because he somehow believes it is evidence.
  • Jump Scare: A whole bunch of 'em. Kind of justified, given that Mary Shaw needs you to scream before she can do anything.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Jamie destroys Billy and rest of the dolls. Pay attention when The dolls in the theatre are burned, and you'll hear the sound of children screaming. After all, they were Mary Shaw's "children..."
  • Lawful Stupid: Lipton. Jamie is grief-stricken that his wife was brutally murdered while he got Chinese food? He must be guilty because he has an alibi! He buries a creepy doll in the woods? The doll is obviously evidence, better to confiscate it! Jamie is staying at a motel? Better stay in the same motel in the room next to his, nothing could go wrong with that!
  • Jawbreaker: While her preferred method of murder is ripping people's tongues out, Mary Shaw's victims have their jaws ripped open.
  • Logo Joke: The Universal Studios logo at the beginning of the film uses the 1926 version.
  • May–December Romance: Edward and Ella. It's not what it seems at first, though...
  • Monster Clown: The doll Mary Shaw first talks directly to Jamie with. Combining Monster Clown and Creepy Doll into an ungodly horror.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Considering the theme of the movie, you probably want to stay away from someone known as "the perfect doll".
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Henry takes pictures of all of Mary Shaw's victims, which he justifies by claiming that it’s his job to do so.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: As soon as everything goes deathly quiet, you know some serious shit is about to go down. Elsewhere, the film utilizes this for some of its scares; for example, it's implied later on that Marion was talking to Mary Shaw, who was speaking through Billy. All the audience (and Henry) hears is Marion mumbling in a corner, while looking at Billy.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: A rare non-comedic take on this trope considering when see of Edward being dead, and if you wanna go murder from the original ending, Ella as well.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The theme tune.
  • Once More, with Clarity: When Jamie discovers that Edward is a corpse/dummy, he starts mentally reviewing all his previous interactions with Edward and Ella, realizing that Ella always had her hand behind Edward's back whenever the latter spoke, among other, smaller details. But an equally alarming revelation is when Jamie remembers the notes he found in Mary Shaw's scrapbook regarding her plans for the Perfect Doll. Specifically, the overleaf on the doll's full body schematics, showing the face Mary Shaw would have given it—- Ella's.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Mary Shaw is a ghost that kills people when they scream. She does it by ripping their bottom jaws off.
  • Our Liches Are Different: On top of being a ghost, Mary Shaw's soul is inside her 102 dolls and keeps her tethered. She expanded this by storing it inside her 'perfect' doll and the dolls she's made from corpses.
  • Parent with New Paramour: While arguing with Ella, Jamie explains that his father has had his fair share of marriages.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Lipton can be such an over-the-top Jerkass that he becomes hilarious, that is when he's not being absolutely insufferable.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Lisa's murder is what set up the plot by making Jamie return to Ravens fair.
  • Police Are Useless: They just carry the dead body out of the apartment and declare that the husband is the murderer, completely ignoring the lead clue. Downplayed somewhat, since Lipton helps destroy Mary's dolls in the end.
  • Puppet Permutation: Not only are Michael and Edward turned into dolls, the ending shows that Jamie, Lisa, Henry and Lipton have all been turned into them as well. Also, Mary Shaw's final wish was to have her corpse turned into a ventriloquist doll.
  • Quieter Than Silence: One of the signs of Mary Shaw's appearance is all the normal everyday sounds slowing down, distorting, and finally fading out, leaving absolute silence behind. The only things that make any sound are the victims and her...
  • Rewatch Bonus: A minor example. Lisa stuffing a pillow up her top at the beginning makes a lot more sense once you learn she was pregnant when she died, and may have been simulating a baby bump.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Ella, though the original ending shows that she was instead a victim of Demonic Possesion at Mary's hands.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Mary Shaw's whole posthumous murder spree is this, as she explains through her clown ventriloquist dummy.
Mary Shaw: To silence those who silenced me.
  • Shout-Out: In a Freeze-Frame Bonus at the hidden room, one of the puppets on the floor is the Billy from Saw (James Wan and Leigh Whannell's previous creation), whom this film's Billy shares its name with and has a similar appearance to.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: While the entire town of Raven's Fair has suffered the ill will of Mary Shaw enough to make an ominous poem about her, Edward's exposition suggests that Shaw has a particular distaste—or taste?—for the Ashen bloodline.
  • Slasher Smile: Mary Shaw is a master of this. Sweet dreams!
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Michael, the boy from Mary Shaw's last ventriloquist performance who exclaimed that he can see her lips moving. When that boy disappeared after, his family blamed Mary Shaw and had her tongue cut out. If that boy kept his mouth shut, Mary's spirit wouldn't be haunting the village and cutting out the tongues of anyone who screamed.
  • Soul Jar: Mary Shaw will stay undead until all of her 101 dolls are destroyed... plus the dolls she made from human corpses, as well as the "perfect doll".
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: As a ghost, Mary Shaw has eerie yellow eyes.
  • Tongue Trauma: Mary Shaw's prime method of killing is ripping out her victim's tongues... and then tying them to her own tongue to gain the victim's voice.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After Henry warns Jamie of the dangers he can expect, and after recounting the story where he successfully evaded Mary's ghost by not screaming, he wanders off into a dark crawlspace — apparently not noticing that it would be physically impossible for Marion to have teleported into it in the time he had his back turned — and gets himself locked in, and then screaming when he sees Mary.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Raven's Fair lives in fear of Mary Shaw's ghost; it's gotten to the point that dummies are associated with death by the townspeople.
  • Twist Ending: What did you expect? This movie was made by the directors of Saw.
  • Ventriloquism
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Lisa and Jamie grew up together, as she mentions that they were both kids when they heard the Mary Shaw rhyme.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: It's heavily implied (and outright stated in the deleted scenes) Mary Shaw can only kill you if you scream while she's around. Fortunately for her, there are absolutely no deaf nor mute people to be seen in the entire film. Or somebody who CANNOT scream despite not being deaf/mute.
  • Wham Line: "You were not the last Ashen. The last Ashen was inside her."
  • Wham Shot: Towards the end, after destroying all of Mary Shaw's dolls, Jamie returns to his father's home to find the latter sitting there in the darkness. He walks up to him... only to discover that not only is he dead, but his entire corpse has been hollowed out and turned into a puppet.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Marion is last seen crying over Henry's body. But considering that Mary Shaw later made Henry into a dummy, Marion might be in for a similar fate...
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mary Shaw, as it turns out; even before it's confirmed that she did kill Michael, Henry's photos of her victims makes it clear that she didn't spare the children of the men who murdered her. And of course there's also Jamie's unborn child...
  • You Killed My Father: Jamie's reason for trying to find the truth behind Mary Shaw. Although the normal trope ends up applying much, MUCH too late...

"Now... Who's the dummy?"