Silent Hill an Entertaining Horror Treat
By Kristin Battestella
I like the 2006 video game-based horror film Silent Hill, yes, it’s true. However, I suspect the convoluted plot and unconventional video game-esque effects may be divisive to audiences expecting a more simplistic slice and dice pursuit. Gamers and fans of the Silent Hill franchise, on the other hand, will delight.
Rose (Rahda Mitchell) and Chris Da Silva (Sean Bean) are concerned by the increasingly disturbing behavior of their young adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). In addition to horrific artwork, the girl sleepwalks and dreams of a place called Silent Hill. Against Chris’ wishes, the desperate Rose researches an abandoned town of the same name and takes Sharon to this mysterious Silent Hill. There, a coal fire continues to burn underground and the nightmarish darkness brings forth deadly monsters, fiery hysterias, and cultish quests.
Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) provides a great, hefty atmosphere – both in the darkened threats and ash falling bizarre of Silent Hill and the real world desolate and desperations. Of course, with some of the abysmal video game movie adaptations abound, we might not expect so much despite a story from Oscar winning writer Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Rules of Attraction). The who is who, why fors, and evil dream world ala purgatory back story is muddled at best and certainly confusing at times. Though the tale benefits from those lowered video game expectations and provides above average horror, the plot suffers from this increasingly obvious trend of making your scary set up and horror graphics more important than a clear story resolution. Implication and speculation are nice, yes, as are the flashback expositions here. However, the cool, old fashion reel camera effects can’t hide the plot holes hampering the script. Religious iconography, sin, fire, and hell motifs sometimes come off as a lot of double talk. When chicks end up throwing stones at other chicks, you wonder why nobody just came out said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ These potentially high concept Inquisition parallels, anti religion, and fanaticism hints never receive their due revelations in Silent Hill.
Fortunately, we have a talented cast to help us forgive Silent Hill’s flaws. Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Man on Fire) is very likeable as a mother searching for her daughter. Yes, she makes some stupid mistakes in her search- including bringing her daughter back to exactly the place she isn’t supposed to be. However, Rose is understandably desperate for her child, realistically strong in her search, and believable enough for the action. We don’t need her to be uber badass, and I’m glad Silent Hill didn’t become some sort of Rambo chick cliché. Besides, Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) fits the bill as Rose’s semi-warrior woman and bitchy cop sidekick Cybil – although her haircut, mannerisms, and attitude do feel a little stereotypically butch at times. I don’t understand Cybil’s weird offshoot Mother is God mama love fest vibe, either. She’s action good, effective in her police work, and there’s a teamwork build between her strong and Rose’s sensitive. Enough is happening in Silent Hill – we don’t need these extra feminine examinations littering the story if there is no follow thru for them. Thankfully, Cybil doesn’t go off the Xena deep end, as there aren’t many cool for the sake of cool weapons uses or outlandish CGI stunts here. Most of the time, our gals are only armed with flashlights and six bullets, and its refreshingly frightening.
Although, there are more female arch types to be had in Silent Hill – it seems like one of each thanks to the zealous Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact) and a bad mother pariah Deborah Kara Under (The Game). Both gals are on form as always and fun to watch, but unfortunately, they aren’t given much to do beyond sin and dark, who is right and who is wrong backtalk before the special effects take over for the finale. Likewise, the obligatory horror I was there! investigator Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) is sadly not given more to do with the historical pieces. Today, a film based upon a video game could have been set solely in the past, and Jodelle Ferland (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) is asked to do some freaky stuff for her alternate reality, past and present multi faceted role. Unlike those other early 21st century blonde American woman with a creepy kid horror pictures, Sharon and her incarnations are neither annoying or goofy and unintentionally humorous. In fact, the audience is both concerned and freaked as Sharon’s history unfolds.
Of course, Silent Hill is also a bit of role reversal for Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings) as Chris. This film’s dynamic is special in that it is a mother and daughter quest – as opposed to the much more often seen husband, father, or all around man hero. Chris is a dad on the sidelines, butting heads with police and getting fraught in his research montage. He’s the out of the loop stay at home wife who’s side tangent doesn’t exactly do anything to help. It’s also interesting that this plot was added to Silent Hill not from the gaming source but rather as a studio insistence to break up the chick fest for the mostly male dominated viewing demographic. Not so long ago, a leading lady was the one shoehorned in as a mere wife or required romance. Although Bean also played a similar role in The Dark the same year as Silent Hill, it’s nice to see a leading lady have a realistic, supporting husband – and in a horror movie no less! Besides the Bean factor, I like Silent Hill because it doesn’t go for today’s horror brand of naked teens in peril with a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Even with its video game approach and patchy writing, there is a familial maturity and close-knit fear to keep the audience on the edge of our seats.
Pleasing cast notwithstanding, I do however fear the special effects in Silent Hill may polarize modern audiences. Despite our big and expensive CGI 3D hysterias, the smart uses of darkness, light, sounds, and derelict dangers here still make for a great mood and atmosphere. The creepy, stilted slice and dice mobs add to the scares, too. However, some scenes and visual shots expressly look and feel just like a video game. Perhaps it is only noticeable to those who pay attention to movie effects and watch a lot of video games being played, but this design will be either ‘These effects look so crappy like a video game’ or ‘Awesome visuals like a video game!’ for the viewer. Rose has to unlock doors in a school, jump over grates and holes in the floor, find hidden hotel rooms, and weave thru frozen undead nurse monsters. Although these scenes advance the plot of finding Sharon, they also feel like quests done in a video game, and thus make Silent Hill seem thinner as it goes on. Are these critical events or mere checkpoints needed to accomplish your search? Are we playing a game or watching a movie? Likewise, Cybil feels like a non-playable helper in these sequences, another piece to help one along the way. Though this simplistic style is relatively harmless, occasionally character motivations are sacrificed because one has to do an action rather than stick to his or her persona. For some serious horror fans, Silent Hill won’t be worthwhile thanks to these repetitive searches, staged accomplishments, or running to and fro scenes. Then again, to the 18 to 34 gaming demographic, Silent Hill plays like a freaky movie and supersized video game combination. As video games have become increasingly realistic and as well designed as films thanks to motion capture and mainstream voice talent, maybe Silent Hill isn’t dated in its game design, but a bit ahead of its time. Outside of some archaic cell phones, one wouldn’t know this wasn’t a more recent picture.
If the focus of Silent Hill had been the horrific errors and transgressions of the plot at hand and not it’s very scary looking build up of video game action and effects, this could have been a seriously good and freaky piece for this talented ensemble. As is, Silent Hill is a little bit of both – an action horror picture with sweet effects and better than expected characterizations, maturity, and casting. Ideally, Silent Hill should have decided to be one or the other – a scary period piece or an all game horror action – but this creepy and unusual mix of both is still entertaining if you accept the movie for what it is. Despite a confused vision and the resulting flaws, fans of the cast, atmospheric horror audiences, and gaming lovers can delight in this surprisingly special video game turned movie.