A young girl’s recurring nightmares about Silent Hill, the place she was born, prompts he mother to take her to take her daughter there, only to find that Silent Hill is not at all what they thought it might be.
Despite the fact that I cannot claim this to be a good film, there are many things about it that I like. It seems like there was an incredible amount of attention to detail when it came to crafting the settings, the look and feel, the characters designs, the soundtrack, and the whole overall atmosphere of this film, but the script, the acting, the structure of the film pales in comparison and really drags the movie down. While this film does lack in a lot of major areas, it almost makes up for it enough for me to recommend this film to people… almost. I was never a huge fan of the Silent Hill video game franchise, though I did play SH2 for a week or two in high school. What I liked about the game was the same thing I liked about this film; the world is so familiar, yet so foreign and bizarre, that it feels like we’ve wandered into some kind of dark hellish fantasy world. The game and this movie craft a wholly original world where ash rains from the sky, where darkness comes as it pleases, and where demons and monsters might pop up at any moment. It’s not a happy film, nor is it one that I’d recommend to people below the age of 17; this film certainly earns its ‘R’ rating, with some of the most disturbing, unforgettably horrific imagery I’ve seen in a while. The first time I came out of this film, I remember feeling like I needed to take a shower.
"Evil wakes in vengeance. Be careful what you choose."
I suppose what one must keep in the forefront of their mind when approaching this movie is that it is based on a video game. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that video game movies rarely turn out well. In fact, the only good one I can think of is… erm… actually this might be the best video game movie I’ve seen, and I’m giving it 2.5/5 stars- a failing grade. Videogame movies just don’t translate well, and in my opinion it’s because of the way videogames are structured vs how movies are structured. Videogames are almost always set in a world where everything is objective based, while movies have objectives, but are mixed with emotional, internal, exterior, and character conflict… and that’s not even counting the technical differences. This movie tries very hard to be as close to a video game as possible, and as a result, the characters do things without motivation, simply to move the story along, and that starts almost at the very beginning of the film. The characters, before we even get to Silent Hill, feel slightly unhinged, and not in a good way.
The film begins with Rose (Radha Mitchell, “Man on Fire”) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean, “Black Death”) trying to figure out what to do with their adopted daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland, “Tideland”). Sharon continuously sleepwalks, acting out her nightmares about Silent Hill, the place where she was born. So here is where we start to run into problems with character motivations. Instead of trying therapy or something any normal person would do, the first thing Rose thinks to do is take her child to the place that her nightmares keep showing her… what? How is that going to help anything? Never mind, don’t worry about the small details; they don’t matter- we’re off to Silent Hill! That is, until Christopher does a little digging online and finds out Silent Hill might be dangerous; when that happens, the first thing Christopher does is cancel Rose’s credit cards… wait, what? Why didn’t he call her and tell her to come home? They both have cell phones- they couldn’t have talked about this like normal adults and then settled on a compromise like a normal couple would do? Nope, I guess the first thing to do is cancel the cards. Well, somehow, Rose gets it in her head that she absolutely has to go to Silent Hill- even though there is no solid evidence that going there will help Sharon, and the fact that her husband is so adamant about her not going, he’s willing to cancel her credit cards. So, she continues, then is pulled over by a cop named Cybil (Laurie Holden, forthcoming “Dragged Across Concrete”). For no reason whatsoever, Rose speeds off away from the cop, starting a high speed chase which ends in her crashing, and finally landing in Silent Hill. All of this happens within the first fifteen minutes of the film, and I can make an argument that every chose Rose makes has been totally unjustified. But we’re just getting started. From here, the movie really turns into a videogame, but it also really showcases the best stuff it has in its pocket.
I watched this film with my roommates (as I watch many of the films I review for this site), and during the first fifteen minutes of this film, we were laughing and joking about how horrible the dialogue was, how ridiculous it was that she was making the choices she’d made, and overall how silly the start of the film was. However, as soon as we get our first glimpse into Silent Hill, we all shut up, and watched in heavy silence. Where this film fails spectacularly as far as script, acting, and directing, it provides amazing atmosphere and visuals. When Rose first awakens in Silent Hill, we’re shown a world that is overrun by fog, ash falls from the skies, the streets are empty and riddled with wreckage, and an overall sense of disquiet permeates the town. The soundtrack, the visuals, the tension draw the viewer in immediately, and that is the primary reason I’ve returned to this film a few times. I know it’s not great, but the atmosphere and visuals are unique and unmatched. As Rose wanders the labyrinthine streets of Silent Hill, suddenly a siren rings out, and before her eyes, the world starts to degrade and decay, literally peeling away in ribbons of rust and filth. The scene is frightening and strange, made worse by the fact that we have no idea what’s going on. The whole first walkthrough of the town is done remarkably well, but again I felt like over and over again I was bombarded by the fact that this is a videogame movie. Rose’s objective was to get to Silent Hill (Checkpoint! You made it past level one!), and then when she gets to Silent Hill, Sharon goes missing, and her next objective is to find her daughter (New Objective: Search the town for clues of your daughter’s whereabouts!). The plot doesn’t really go any deeper than Rose finding her next clue, and honestly for the next forty minutes of the film, that’s all the movie is: wandering around, looking for clues, stumbling on creepy things, barely getting away, and finding another clue. Furthering the videogame likeness are the shots and even the objectives she has to overcome. Camera shots are sometimes high above, looking at our characters as they wander down hallways (looking like an overhead view on a videogame). Some of the objectives are things like, ‘retrieve something from this dead guy’s mouth,’ or ‘use this rope to swing to the other side of this gap.’ Everything feels very episodic and objective based, like its not really building towards anything, just showing us more of the cool world they’ve built. Eventually, we start to learn more of the story of Silent Hill, and about an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, we finally learn some details that give the illusion of a ghost of a storyline. But when the plot and pacing is just starting to ramp up, we stop the tension building to show us a ten minute long backstory about the town. The scene completely kills any tension and momentum, and almost completely derails the film. Now, I know I’ve spent the past 1,400 words talking about how much this movie sucks, but there are some really good moments of horror in it- it’s the reason why this film didn’t receive a 1/5 in my book, and why I’ll probably watch it again (I inexplicably own this movie on Blu-Ray- I don’t know why, but that happens sometimes when you collect a lot of movies).
The reason I’ve returned to this movie a couple times is because it is so bizarrely terrifying in some of the imagery that it shows us. There are horrifying contortionist creatures wrapped in barbed wire, faceless nurses with scissors and scalpels, the iconic pyramid-head and his army of oversized roaches, and most of all, the world of Silent Hill itself. There are many movies that have tried to show us the epitome of a haunted, hellish town, but this movie does it in a way that is almost fantastical. It truly feels like they’ve crafted another world here, and they take the time to explore that world and flesh it out. Even if the film feels directionless at times, it almost always feels creepy enough to keep my attention. It’s not just a horror film, but a dark horror fantasy, where the world is a better character than any of the humans we see onscreen. The soundtrack, too, which was created with one of the composers for the videogame franchise, really brings this world to life- it’s hellish and haunting in the right places, but soft and intriguing in others. If you’re into horror films, the production design alone makes seeing this movie worth it- it’s full of some of the creepiest imagery you’ll see, and all of that is just dressing for the world they’ve created.
This turned out to be one of the longer reviews I’ve written in a while, and honestly I’m not sure I can say why. This movie has me so polarized that it’s mind-numbingly frustrating. I absolutely loved some of the imagery, the designs of the characters and settings, the soundtrack, and the whole overall atmosphere and the way this movie made me feel, but as a cinephile, there is so much to hate. The writing- both in terms of story and in dialogue- is dismal, the characters and acting are laughable, and the overall plot feels- you guessed it- like a simple videogame premise. I’m on the fence about recommending this, and so I withhold my recommendation. I can’t fully say I hated this movie, but I also can’t say I fully enjoyed it either. It’s a film that has parts that are absolutely worth checking out, but it’s also a movie that is far too long (over two hours) and gives little reward for those looking for a real movie with a real plot and real characters. See this movie if you want, don’t see it if you don’t want; trust me, you’ll be fine either way.
End Note: Even if you did like this movie, you’re better off skipping the abysmal sequel “Silent Hill: Revelation”.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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