Silent Hill (2006) — Insert disc 2 to continue

“Only the Dark One opens and closes the door to Silent Hill.”

Drew’s rating: Actually didn’t scare me nearly as much as the games… maybe I should try playing with popcorn and a soda from now on?

Drew’s review: [Before we start, a brief disclaimer. As many of you know, Silent Hill is based on a popular series of video games, and a couple of characters’ names and the gender of the protaganist were changed in the transition from game to movie. Being one of the most stubborn people alive, if I don’t understand the reasons for doing something or just consider it stupid, I tend to ignore it. (Ladies, it’s like when we ask you what’s wrong and you say “Nothing,” so we act like nothing’s wrong… of course we know it’s not true, we just refuse to play twenty questions to find out what.) Having now seen the movie, I surprisingly find myself supporting the decision to change Harry Mason to Rose DaSilva; but that being said, daughter Sharon will be reverting to her true name of “Cheryl” in this review, and that’s just all there is to that.]

Okay, so… Silent Hill. Highly anticipated by video game fans still looking for that first truly good, critically-accepted movie based off a video game, as well as those searching for a good psychological thriller in a sea of ho-hum slasher flicks. Does it live up to those expectations? Well… yes and no. There’s a lot to like about the movie, which is unquestionably a marvel of atmospheric storytelling; but is there real substance behind the style? That’s something I predict will be hotly contested among viewers, and you’ll really have to see it to decide for yourself.

Let’s tackle the plot first; or, more realistically, at least give it a decent shot. It’s pretty hard to get into details without spoiling things, so this will be pretty bare bones, and those who’ve already seen the movie and want to know what the heck they just watched can check out “Intermission” for a more detailed explanation. But in a nutshell: little girl Cheryl is suffering from an unknown illness that’s killing her, and while sleepwalking keeps mentioning a town called “Silent Hill.” To try to help her, adopted mother Rose takes her to the town (abandoned since a massive coal fire several years back), but crashes her car just inside town limits and is knocked out. Regaining consciousness, she finds Cheryl gone and begins searching for her, with the help of motorcycle cop Cybil, in a town seemingly haunted by monsters and cultists. Meanwhile, Rose’s husband Christopher pursues in an attempt to find them, but may find himself in rather different surroundings. And what connection does Cheryl have to local eccentric Dahlia and her lost daughter Alessa?

Let’s just get it out there — I can’t say enough about the actors, each one of them seemed terrific for their role to me. Rose (Radha Mitchell) projects just the right combination of disbelief and abject horror at what’s unfolding around her, yet also the determination to find her daughter that’s clearly the only thing keeping her sane in such an environment, and somehow manages to remain quite attractive even when splattered with blood, ash, and dirt. I was skeptical at the decision to switch her character from male to female because there didn’t seem to be any point, but I’ll admit — thematically it really works, showing the contrast between Cheryl’s biological and adopted mothers and allowing for the big “To children, ‘mother’ is another name for God” motif.

Meanwhile, Cybil (Laurie Holden) is tough-as-nails and uncompromising but shows her caring nature more subtly, and while Sean Bean is kept out of the main action as Christopher DeSilva, he nonetheless truly sells the frustration and mounting dread his character experiences at his inability to do anything. But perhaps most impressive, given her age, is Jodelle Ferland as Cheryl. It’s true, the innocent-looking but creepy little girl is a complete, total horror movie cliché… yet somehow, Ferland manages to avoid making the role seem like a parody. Instead she effectively plays, in a sense, two entirely different roles and does both believably, periodically shooting looks into the camera that make you squirm uncomfortably and wish you hadn’t gotten the large Coke.

Naturally, a film like this can live or die by its special effects, and in that respect, Silent Hill doesn’t disappoint. The monsters are drawn from all of the games and each looks great, from the monster children to the faceless nurses, and even everyone’s favorite demonic demigod, Pyramid Head! (Speaking of whom, some fans have complained that he only appears twice; as I see it, that’s exactly how it should be. The big guy needs be the monster you’re truly terrified of, his every appearance punctuated by something incredibly horrible happening. With PH, less is more.) And the look of the town itself is gorgeous, if something so incredibly disturbing can really be described that way. A major aspect of the plot revolves around light Silent Hill vs. dark Silent Hill, and they visually come across as two very, very different places, each with its own distinct feel. As for the film’s climax, whether you love it or hate it, it’s definitely impressive from a visual standpoint.

Part of what is inevitably going to bother some people about this movie is that a lot of details about the storyline are left intentionally vague. Most aspects of the main plotline are explained, but at the same time, some fairly significant questions are frustratingly unanswered by the film’s end. To a certain extent, that’s exactly as it should be — no one has ever finished a Silent Hill game and said, “Ah, well THAT explains everything!” You’re meant to be perplexed, to want to know more of the story and to talk it over with your friends. In that last respect, the movie is very true to the games; the question then becomes whether filmgoers will actually be discussing various theories with their friends, or just complaining about how they didn’t understand that stupid movie. And being perfectly honest, it’s a valid criticism. Never before have I seen a film with so much blatant exposition – including a five-minute scene where part of the backstory is simply told directly to Rose — that still doesn’t really explain things to viewers. Note to filmmakers: I know it’s a complex story, but if you want to be inscrutable, get creative with how you convey the really important information to audiences, then let them puzzle out the rest; you can’t be both straightforward and ultimately enigmatic. (For instance, Alessa’s powers really needed some explanation about how she got them in the first place, even if you save the full demonic connection till next movie.)

Beyond simply plot issues, there were a few other things I took issue with. I can’t say I was a big fan of the gore; I understand the need for an exciting climax, and I know they wanted to appeal to modern horror fans, many of whom expect to get their ticket prices repaid in blood. But at the same time, Silent Hill horror is supposed to be atmospheric in nature, not gross-out kill rampages… you see the aftermath of bloodbaths, they don’t take place in front of you. Beyond that, some of the dialogue and acting by secondary characters was downright hokey — other than Christabella (and sometimes even her), the whole cult congregation and their incessant “Burn her!” cries just brings to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which tends to remove you from the foreboding atmosphere rather quickly. I don’t mind the whole witch hunt mentality, but playing it a bit more subdued would have been advisable.

When all is said and done, one question remains: Is Silent Hill the best video game-to-movie adaptation to date? To that, I’d have to answer a resounding “yes”; but in light of the competition, that’s no guarantee of quality. Personally, I did enjoy it despite its flaws… I liked the acting, I liked the mood, I liked how they plunged right into the story without delay, and I liked that you ultimately walk away with the sense that, in the end, there were no real “good guys.” But I’m also coming from the perspective of having played every game in the series, which most viewers aren’t. Would it be equally accessible to them? That I couldn’t say for sure, but I suspect the answer is “not so much.” So while I’d still advise seeing it — numerous elements, not the least of them the creepy atmosphere it evokes, make it worth at least one viewing — I’d also warn Silent Hill newbies to go in knowing they’re not going to understand everything they see, and to be okay with that fact. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourselves up for disappointment.

Kyle’s rating: You might think I would have read Drew’s review to compare notes. Nope! I love you, Drew!

Kyle’s review: The simple act of watching Silent Hill was only a tiny portion of an astonishing day that was set aside almost exclusively to see the film but ended up becoming something else entirely. Something wonderful, mind you, but still: Silent Hill kind of got short shrift as a result.

But it kind of earned its backburner status, so no real worries. It’s been a long while since a film managed to retroactively rescind accumulated good will so decisively at a certain point, to the extent that when the creepily creative end credits rolled they were such a fresh burst of enjoyable horror that if someone had asked me what I thought while leaving the theater, I would have given those end credits the nod over the film itself. Don’t blame me. Those end credits are awesome.

What a downturn during the film proper, though. I know I’ve used it as a touchstone before, but I have to bring it up again: only the film Something Wild has a more clearly demarcated line (one line of dialogue!) between the two distinct portions of its story (from charmingly comedic to fairly disturbing), and it is only because of the talent involved with that film and the possibilities raised by the story that allowed it to pull it off so effectively. Silent Hill’s turn isn’t very wide at all; simply a downshift within the horror genre. But when the action enters the church for the first time (spoiler?), be aware that all the fun and successfully atmospheric unease that has been generated is about to evaporate into over-explanation and crap CGI. It’s disappointing especially because up until then it’s pretty much good times all around, but then things get very compressed, obviously staged, and unimaginative. Oh well. End credits!

I’ve never played the original Silent Hill game. At a particular low point a couple years ago, I won on eBay a few DVDs a dude made of himself playing the first three Silent Hill games, edited into a kind of cinema so I could get the highlights of each gaming experiences without having to bother owning a PlayStation console (which I didn’t until about a month ago). I didn’t pay much, but I certainly got my money’s worth because I saw how much these games were innovative and occasionally disturbing works worthy of their cult acclaim. I expected the film adaptation to follow suit, and for a while it really did. So I’m pretty sure I got my money’s worth again.

In fact, I understand what they were trying to do with the movie’s characters and arcs. I greatly appreciated Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean in their roles, as they managed to make their characters believable and likeably heroic: not an easy task in this genre. For the most part, motivations were intelligent, fear and danger were both sustained, and the otherworldly elements were utilized effectively and appropriately (no having to wait until 2/3 of the running time has elapsed to see your first “thing”).

Ultimately, I think that the taint of modern horror just wormed its way into the mix. What I’ve always appreciated about the Friday the 13th series is how (for the most part) the deaths are fairly quick. The superior first three installments build tension with glimpses of Jason and by crafting chase scenes and whatnot, but then when a character is in true harm’s way, it happens quick and we move on to the next potential victim. Modern horror seems to relish getting a character into the clutches of those who mean him/her harm, and then showing us said harm being inflicted in some detail. Is this to encourage groans and screaming from the theater audience? Is it weird voyeur stuff? I don’t know, but I don’t like it very much, especially in the “insert screams HERE” manipulative way many contemporary films include such scenes (see Hostel for distinct examples of what I’m talking about).

If you like the stuff that’s designed to get you to scream loudly and longly, stick through the first half or so of Silent Hill and you’ll get what you’re after. The rest of us, having exhausted the film’s intelligent and moody thrills and slowly resigning to not getting any more, will slump in our seats and at least know from your screams that someone is enjoying the rest of it.

Stay for the credits, though. I don’t mean to build them up, but I really liked them. Nice CGI visual, there!

Justin’s rating: They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

Justin’s review: I’ve finally come to a firm conclusion about the state of modern horror movies: I plain don’t like them.

It’s odd to say that, because while I’ve not been the biggest horror fan over the years, some of my very favorite films (such as Evil Dead 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street) dabble their foot in the pond of terror now and then. Yet since Scream came along and “revitalized” horror, we’ve seen a disturbing downtrend into (a) Japanese ghost freaky flicks, (b) self-referential yet by-the-numbers slashers, and (c) brutal, gory, mean-spirited splatterpunk that harkens back to the mid-70s. None of those hold a candle to older, perhaps more cheesy horror, but have since trained an entire generation of moviegoers to think that little girls with hair over their face and intricately planned torture scenes are the beginning, middle and end of the subject. Forget the psychological horror of Silence of the Lambs; we just need someone to be ripped open and expose themselves like a page from Gray’s Anatomy.

Maybe I’m becoming a wuss? Maybe I’m developing better taste? I dunno.

Silent Hill was the first horror movie I think I’ve seen at the theaters since House on Haunted Hill. I only partook of its nightmarish excess because of a twisted loyalty to the video game series. Actually, just the first game, which is by far and away the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced, so much so that I just said “pass” to the sequels. I like going about my life without screaming in brief, disturbing fits, thank you very much.

I suppose coming from the game brings with it a lot of expectations – highly subjective expectations, depending on one’s personal journey. I’ll just skip ahead to the film, which details the Road Trip Gone Amok starring a Determined Mom, a Helpless Dad, and a Child Who Cannot Act. Child is somehow connected to a freaky, abandoned town called Silent Hill, and Mom brings Child there for… I dunno, postcards and shock therapy? The movie doesn’t feel like it needs to make sense here. She just does.

(Later in the movie, the cop tells Mom what a great and caring mother she is, and I just about snorted my Coke back up from my stomach. Yeah. So great and caring that she evaded the law to get her child to Demonville, population: nightmares for life.)

While there, Mom and Child are separated, and Mom experiences the two flavors of Silent Hill: deadly vanilla and hellish chocolate. The white world is like ours, except with an ever-present fog and ash fall, plus a few disgruntled monsters out for a stroll. The dark world is fear come true, with blood, grates, barbed wire, fire, pits and more nasty critters than you can shake a butter knife at. Mom doesn’t much care for this, but Mom is a determined snorting boar and lacks basic survival instincts. Thus begins a heapload of screaming, gratuitous gore and cameos by all of the remaining members of the Partridge Family.

For atmosphere and visual style, Silent Hill scores a solid B+. For the first half of the movie it works, it really works, and it’s almost enough to overcome all other flaws. For everything else — story, acting, restraint, common sense — it fails and falls into its own maw of the abyss. Silent Hill video game fans might be glad to spot their favorite moments recreated on film, but if anyone honestly divorces themselves from previous expectations, there isn’t much to redeem this mess.

For one thing, Silent Hill is a marathon at 126 minutes. This is far, far too long for its simplistic story. There’s a whole side plot with Dad that could’ve been left out entirely and not changed a single thing. There’s an ending that goes on and on and on and loses any sense of horror. It kinda made me want to pee, it just kept stretching on. The worst offender is that there’s even a stretch of film toward the end (if you’ve seen this, you definitely know what I mean) where the movie holds your hand and condescendingly walks you through the backstory.

It’s also — and I can’t believe I’m saying this, for all the nights that the video game kept me up — just not that scary. The director made the small yet fatal decision to ramp up the amount of gore and not concentrate as hard on smaller points of freaky horror. For me, it’s always the point before the jump-scare and the monster-reveal that’s the most terrifying, and I think any horror director that can keep that moment going for the longest is better off. The second a movie shows its evil in the flesh, my buttocks relax and I know that I’m safe for a while. This movie gets so ridiculous with its love of bloody excess that at one point, seriously, a character dances through the falling red shower. That’s special.

I can’t be as enthusiastic as Drew, even though he could probably mess me up with a rigged radio playing that creepy static, just to play with my head. For me, this just might be the end of theater horror, forever.

Didja notice?

  • Wearing shades while driving a motorcycle = cool… but at night, probably not so smart.
  • The streets in Silent Hill are named after famous horror and sci-fi writers, including Bradbury, Matheson, Sagan, and Bachman (Stephen King’s pseudonym).
  • They never really get into who Alessa’s father is, do they? Or how she got her powers, for that matter. (Inherited from him.) Guess they’re saving ol’ Samael for the sequel…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s