Ryan Kwanten’s wife is murdered not long after she received a mysterious marionette, and he is hounded by a sarcastic cop (Donnie Wahlberg). Kwanten ventures to his hometown to uncover a few skeletons in the family closet, and see if his wife’s death is in any way connected to the urban legend of his childhood- that of crazy ventriloquist Mary Shaw, who apparently likes tongues...to be ripped out. Bob Gunton is Kwanten’s tuxedo-wearing, wheelchair-bound estranged father, whose new (and young) wife is played by Amber Valetta.
The Aussie guys behind “Saw” offer up a different sort of horror flick with this creepy puppet flick directed by James Wan with a screenplay by Leigh Whannell (based on a story by Wan and Whannell), that wants to be a mixture of “Child’s Play” and “Magic” (or the ventriloquist segment from “Dead of Night”). Unfortunately, the filmmakers forget to give us anything remotely interesting and the plot itself isn’t all that far removed from the equally tepid “Boogeyman”.
It’s dour, unoriginal, and outside of a few technical achievements, uninteresting. Mind you, it’s still superior to “Saw III”, and the people who complain that it’s not scary are missing the point, it’s meant to be atmospheric rather than scary (It’s also meant to be good, which it isn’t). After a genuinely tense and well-directed opening, it’s really no fun at all until we get to the fiery finish, where the goods are finally delivered (i.e. Lots of nasty, homicidal dolls, a human marionette, and an admittedly easy-to-spot twist), all too late. Cool opening credits, though, and Gunton’s physical resemblance to Ed Wood crony Criswell is kinda interesting the first time you see him (there’s also a heavily made-up ghoul towards the end that reminded me a lot of the old lady in the 70s British horror flick “Frightmare”).
It’s hard to get excited in a film with a tiresome and badly told story (which is clunkily told, with Kwanten’s character motivation sometimes perplexing, and a back-story far more interesting than the main one), with two lead characters who aren’t at all interesting, or well-played. Wahlberg, however, is actually quite good (I prefer him to his stone-faced brother, actually) in an underwritten role. Cinematography by John R. Leonetti is typically monochromatic for a Wan film, but outside of the colour the film is extremely well-lensed (nice and foggy, just as I like it) and the Herrmann-esque music score by Charlie Clouser is terrific.
If it weren’t for the lifeless acting, ho-hum story, and the lack of humour, this might’ve been something. But it’s not.