Over the years there have been many movies adapted from other media such as cartoons, comic books and TV shows. The latest alternative media format to get the Hollywood treatment is the video game. Popular games like Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, House of the Dead, Resident Evil and Doom have all been given a shot at the silver screen and all have failed miserably. The latest attempt at this appalling yet financially lucrative genre is “Silent Hill.” Based on the video game of the same name and helmed by Froggy director Christophe Gans (who gave us the vapid, but highly entertaining “Brotherhood Of The Wolf”), “Silent Hill” is a bit of a departure from what we’ve become used to from video game to big screen ports.
The movie introduces us to Rose (Radha Mitchell, “Pitch Black”), the adoptive mother of Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), a disturbed little girl with a penchant for sleepwalking across busy highways and standing at the edge of cliffs screaming the words “Silent Hill!” Rather than seek psychiatric help for Sharon and much to the dismay of her husband Chris (“The Island’s” Sean Bean in a thankless role), Rose decides to sort things out by taking Sharon to the town of Silent Hill. The town is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, having been abandoned after much of it was destroyed by coal fires that still burn to this day, and is blanketed by a steady rain of grey ash. As is de rigueur for movies of this type, Rose crashes her car and loses Sharon in short order. Assisted by a bull-dyke motorcycle cop who wears her uniform like fetish gear (but doesn’t do us the courtesy of getting naked), Rose scours Silent Hill looking for Sharon and enters a nightmare far beyond her wildest expectations.
The major problem with all the other video game-based films we’ve seen in recent years, aside from their half-baked scripts, is that they either look too much like a video game (ala the efforts of the infamous Uwe Boll) or they look like cheap rip-offs of normal horror movies. “Silent Hill” bucks this trend in spectacular fashion. With the minor concession to the ‘Dungeon Crawl’ gaming format, there’s nothing about the look or structure of the film that belies its console roots. Instead, “Silent Hill” suffers from the usual shortcomings of your average horror film: a weak script, uneven pacing and marginal acting.
I haven’t played any of the “Silent Hill” video games, so I can’t comment on how faithful the movie is to the source material. However, what I can say is that the movie takes way too long to trudge through the story it does have. If you are adapting ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Dune,’ then it is acceptable for your film to be over two hours long. But if you are adapting a video game, you don’t have that excuse. The worst part is that “Silent Hill” tries to be a serious horror film despite knowing full well that it doesn’t have the required thematic weight to throw around. Sure, there’s plenty of heavy brooding about self-righteous religious sects and the folly of Puritanical societies, but unless your script was written by Arthur Miller it’s pretty tough for the result to be anything more than hokey, and “Silent Hill” is more than half a hundredweight of hokum.
But none of this would have been a big issue if the script was efficient and fast-paced. Instead, there is enough obvious stuffing to make wonder bras obsolete. Most movies will typically have a scene in the middle were the plot exposition is given to bring the mystified audience up to speed. “Silent Hill” has several. The padding is most obvious in the side plot involving Rose’s husband and the local police. The industry buzz is that the original script only contained the female leads and was rewritten to include the husband at the studio’s request. The result is leaden pacing that feels interminable by the time the climax comes around. Hollywood corporate bean counting ruins yet another movie.
On the bright side, “Silent Hill” is one of the better looking horror films in recent memory. The first step in creating a straight-ahead horror film is making the location scary, and “Silent Hill” succeeds mightily. The dense, ominous fog and dilapidated buildings give the town of Silent Hill a decidedly creepy feel. For once, fog effects have been used to enhance the mood rather than to obscure the scope of the SFX (now isn’t that ironic for a video game-based film?). The set design is reminiscent of “The Cell”, with strange negative lighting, muted pastels and dark browns giving the film a deranged, otherworldly look.
The second step in creating a straight-ahead horror film is making the characters that inhabit the film scary. Chalk up one more point for “Silent Hill.” Many of the horror trappings on display harkens back to the original “Hellraiser” and several ‘Tool’ music videos, with plenty of blood, sickeningly grotesque characters and lots of rusted barbed wire. There are a few really good scares thrown in and the movie thankfully doesn’t have a single ‘Boo!’ moment in it. There’s one scene in particular, where one of the characters meets their demise at the hands of the Pyramid Head monster that is startlingly gruesome.
Thanks to the great look of the film, “Silent Hill” is quite watchable despite the languid pacing. Right up to the gory climax, that is, where things fall apart rather quickly. Thus far, the film had been a tightly controlled exercise in atmosphere and creepiness, but the climactic battle is reduced to a great deal of talking and ends with a conclusion that doesn’t quite jive with much of what had come before. I suspect playing the video game would help greatly here.
Christophe Gans (director) / Roger Avary, Nicolas Boukhrief, Christophe Gans (screenplay)
CAST: Radha Mitchell …. Rose Da Silva
Sean Bean …. Christopher Da Silva
Laurie Holden …. Cybil Bennett
Deborah Kara Unger …. Dahlia Gillespie
Kim Coates …. Henry Townshend