"THE QUIET" — * — Camilla Belle, Elisha Cuthbert, Martin Donovan; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, sex, rape, violence, drugs, brief nudity, brief gore).

"The Quiet" begins to go awry from the moment it features voice-over narration from its main character — who's supposed to be a deaf-mute.

That's one of many ridiculous aspects of this dramatic thriller, which gets more ludicrous as it goes along. While it almost takes on a campy air, distasteful subject matter prevents it from being little more than exploitative nonsense.

The film's title refers to the household of Dot (Camilla Belle), an orphan who's been adopted by her godparents, Paul and Olivia Deer (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco).

She and her adoptive sister, popular high school student Nina (Elisha Cuthbert), don't see eye-to-eye. Especially when Nina discovers that Dot's hearing impairment is a ruse.

But Nina is hiding a secret of her own. Her father is molesting and raping her. So she tells Dot she's going to kill him and that she wants Dot to remain silent about her murderous plans.

This kind of dark material eludes director Jamie Babbit, better known for comedies like 1999's "But I'm a Cheerleader." To be fair, she is working from an awful script that features some howlingly bad dialogue.

As for Belle ("When a Stranger Calls"), her performance consists mostly of eyebrow knitting and lip-pursing. Not exactly Oscar-level material.

Perhaps that explains why Cuthbert (TV's "24") goes so over-the-top. She and Falco seem to be acting in a completely different, slightly more entertaining film than the rest of the cast.

"The Quiet" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity, slang and references), simulated sex and other sexual contact, a scene depicting rape (incest), strong violence (strangulation and sexual violence), drug content (including prescription-drug abuse), female nudity and brief gore. Running time: 96 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com