Silent Hill
Review By: Joe

Oh, poor, misunderstood Silent Hill. You so wacky and surreal and dark and foggy and open to interpretation. How could anybody TRULY love you? You are an enigma wrapped in a blood-soaked skin-based straight-jacket, concealed by fog and darkness and stilted dialogue! You silly goose. Did you really think that the moviegoing public would embrace you while Scary Movie 4 is number one at the box office? Certainly not, Silent Hill. Certainly not indeed.

Poor Silent Hill has the distinction of being perhaps the first video game film that people thought might actually end up being GOOD for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the game series Silent Hill is almost entirely story-based. Even though I adore the series for having a unique feel and being able to creep me out and keep me creeped out long after I've stopped playing it, it's definitely arguable as to whether or not the game is actually FUN. The gameplay is essentially a bastardized clone of Resident Evil: exploring disturbing locales, solving somewhat out of place puzzles, and shooting gross things. Silent Hill changes the formula by making your character a lamewad who sucks at fighting and making the environment very claustrophobic and unnerving by alternating between being either entirely fog-covered or in near-pitch darkness. It's freaky as hell, but the same things that make the mood so well, make the gameplay less than accessible. So...MOVIE IS GOOD IDEA, EH?

Secondly, the director picked for the film is not just some action movie reject, but a genuine weirdo, Christophe Gans, who directed the also weird (I haven't seen it but I understand it to be very much so) Brotherhood of the Wolf. Additionally, Christophe is apparently very familiar with the Silent Hill LORE and has done his dangedest to be true to the imagery and stylings of the game series.


Well, no, not exactly.

These same things that should've made the movie LOVELY are, in another way, it's downfall. A catch twenty-two!? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE?!

Well, the thing is that Silent Hill isn't so much of a SHOCKFEST as it is a SLOW CREEP INTO YOUR BRAIN PSYCHOLOGICAL FUCKHOUSE. The disturbingness of the games is largely based around the feeling of solitude one gets running their character around foggy (I said foggy), desolate environments. It's not usually the kind of thing that provides you with scares you can put your finger right on and later say, "THAT part where the GUY came out SCARED me." It's a bit more of an undefinable type of terror like, "I NEVER WANT TO PLAY THAT GAME AGAIN BECAUSE IT WAS PROGRAMMED WITH THE BLOOD OF THE DAMNED."

Personally, I think it kind of worked in the movie. It's admittedly a bit slow to build at first but as a person who could put up with (and enjoy) the same type of thing within the games, I really enjoyed the setup. Your average audience, however, probably won't! They want the jumps and the violence and the grossness, some of which is in there, but they want it RIGHT NOW.

The other issue is that Cristophe Gans wants to be true to the game and, by and large, he is. It's cool to see that some of the wonky camera movement and funny, yet cinematic and eerie camera angles are mimicked within the film. I think some of the odd pullouts and high dutch angles (I WENT TO FILM SCHOOL, YAY!!!!) are really cool, whether or not you're familiar with their resemblance to stuff from the game series. Similarly, the sets are quite nice with all kinds of nice touches (many taken directly from the game) like lone broken-down wheelchairs and gurneys in the middles of hallways and such.

On the other hand, the plot of the film, which essentially (but with some major alterations) follows the plot of the very first game, actually unfolds a lot like, well, a video game. There is not a huge amount of development for the main characters. Just like in the game, we essentially know that the protagonist wants to find her daughter, so she's willing to go to some great lengths to do this. Still, the logic within the film doesn't feel much like regular human logic but more like gaming logic.

Rose, the lead, sort of just explores around until she finds a piece of paper, apparently drawn by her daughter, which reads "SCHOOL" and decides, well, she'd betta find her that school. A scribbling on the wall of a bathroom reads "DOUBLE DARE YOU" with an arrow pointing towards a nearby dead guy's mouth, forcing her to retrieve an item from it, which leads her to the next location. Plus, the switch from bad Silent Hill to REALLY BAD Silent Hill, although pretty darn cool-looking, also feels like a game concept, rather than a movie one. It's all very videogamey.

I don't REALLY mind this. In fact, it serves to make this feel like a very different kind of movie (because it's almost not one). The thing is that dorky gamers like myself are usually willing to put up with a lot more of the "slow build" in which it's not really certain what's going on for quite awhile because, hey, you're still getting to play a game and it's nifty to discover all this stuff gradually on your own. Movies are only two hours long and you don't get to control any of it. People want a clear premise and they want plot to be streaming at them throughout. Silent Hill is, in a way, so much like the video game that I would say a big chunk of the middle is basically plotless. The characters just go from one screwed-up place to another, witnessing freaky shit with no apparent reason for it.

Unfortunately!!! The creators of the film must have remembered that they still had to try and make some money off of this so, once we get to the latter portion of the film, a bunch of other characters show up (which is very UN-Silent Hill like) and we get a HUUUUGE chunk of backstory all at once that, for the most part, explains everything we've seen prior. This, I have to say, is just not good writing. The games almost never fully explain, well, ANYTHING to you. It's more about the mood and your own interpretation of the events. While I can understand not wanting to leave the audience in the same position with the film, I still think the information could somehow have been fed gradually, placed throughout.

Other problems that arise from the game being cinemized are the other sacrifices that had to be made in regards to the screenplay. Firstly, it was decided the main character should be a woman (it's a dude in the game) because she does so much womanly running (in the game, yes, it's a guy doing the womanly running). This, I have no problem with but after this was done, I understand that a script note was made, "There are no men!" No, really, I read this. As a result, the character of Rose's husband, played by Sean Bean, was tacked on and, sadly, it feels just like that.

All his parts take place outside of the fucked-upness that is Silent Hill, putting a damper on the movie's creepiness whenever they show up. Plus, although he teaches us a FEW more tidbits about the history of the town, which I suppose helps the overall concept some, he doesn't truly add anything to the main narrative and, as far as physical progress is concerned his character literally does the following. He tries to go to Silent Hill, gets in trouble with the cops, goes to Silent Hill with the cops, gets into trouble with cops again, and goes home. WOO, SEAN BEAN!!!

So the narrative's pretty flawed, partway through it doesn't feel like Silent Hill as much anymore, a good bit of the dialogue is cheesy ("They used to say this place was haunted!" "I think they were right!"), Pyramid Head is in it just because he looks cool but his presence is entirely nonsensical and in no way really conclusive, the violence and creatures are mostly done in CG (the creatures are APPARENTLY a combination of both real people and CG though), thereby making it too fake and not very unsettling, and the ending is just a bit too open to interpretation. Still, much like the games, the mood is what is done best here. It is therefore that I reccommend you see this film in a theater where there are NO MORONS.

My theater just so happened to be filled with the exact type of people who would not like this movie. It wasn't just a group or two, mind you, it was pretty much the whole theater. There was a general undercurrent of talking and laughter almost entirely throughout, one or two people took calls during it, allowing their super-loud rap-based rings to go on for quite awhile before answering, and we got a number of lovely comments (which, at the very least, nobody really laughed at). For example, when the screen went all white at one part, "OH NO, I'M BLIND!" Also, before the movie had even fully reached it's conclusion, people were getting up and talking as though the credits were rolling. When it finally did fade to black we were blessed with, "MAN, THIS SHIT WAS WACK!"

I liked the way some of this film felt. It didn't stay with me afterwards at all the way the games did but the games also have the benefit of being hours longer and not screened in theaters filled with fuckwits. This film is too non-conventional to be appreciated by the general moviegoing public. It's not standard horror in almost every way and, considering it came from a video game, that's kind of cool.

If you haven't played the games, enjoy some of the cool imagery and the mood because they really are, in parts, done well. If you're a fan of the games, try to ignore the stuff that had to be put in to make this function better as a movie like the extra characters and the way the little girl is just a bit too much like a combination of Samara and Aidan from The Ring. And for everybody in general: forgive the shoddy script, the silly dialogue, and the sometimes unimpressive CG, and realize that some of the other stuff in here is really very cool. Oh, and go to a theater with an audience that understands how movies work and shuts their goddamned faces.

As far as video game adaptations go, Resident Evil is still the best, most accessible film as a result of its relatively clear narrative. Silent Hill, however, is the only video game film yet to do anything INTERESTING as well as honor its source material, easily making it my favorite.


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