Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Silent Hill: A Quiet Disaster

The film Silent Hill came in at the top spot of the box office this past weekend, grossing just over twenty million, exceding studio expectations. It preformed better than the last two recent horror outings, The Hills Have Eyes remake (which came in at #3 opening weekend with $15 mil) and Slither (which came it at #8 opening weekend with just under $4 mil). I didn’t see Slither, but I did see the Hills Have Eyes, and though no great masterpiece it was about a hundred times better than Silent Hill. I’m pretty baffled at how Silent Hill did so well among audiences. Granted, the film had a bit of a built in fan base, as it was based on the popular video game series. I read up on the original incarnation of Silent Hill, and it seems that it was widely regarded as one of the most disturbing and frightening horror video games on the market. Since the release of the first game in 1999, three sequals have followed, as well as graphic novels and comic books. Reviewers and fans alike have praised the “cinematic” qualities of the SH games and it was apparently only a matter time before it was adapted to a feature film.

It’s difficult to summarize the film, because, more so than other recent horror films, its convoluted mythology not only defies logic and reason, but spits in the face of even the quirkiest non-linear storytelling. In fact, Silent Hill is so inconsistent and bizarre, it lends itself more to the fantasy genre.

The film begins with a young girl, by the name of Sharon, having a sleep walking episode. She has run out into the dangerous wooded canyons behind her house, and her mother, Rose, and father Christopher race frantically to catch her before she hurts herself. They find her, just as she is about to leap off a precipice; in her sleep induced daze Sharon keeps muttering “Silent Hill, Silent Hill, mommy….” I knew from this point, that the film was not going to be particularly strong. The script had just steam rolled right over character development and set up and jumped right into a ridiculous scenario. Little did I know, just how bad things would get. Apparently this was not the first time Sharon had exhibited such strange behavior, and after the latest episode, Rose decides she must sneak off with Sharon, behind her husband’s back. Rose intends to take her daughter to, Silent Hill, an abandoned ghost town, where she hopes to uncover the mystery of the connection between the town and her disturbed daughter. On their way, Rose stops at a gas station, and a female cop becomes suspicious of Rose and Sharon (there is no real reason for this, she just does). The cop decides to follow them and they head towards the deserted road to Silent Hill. When the cop pulls her over for speeding, Rose is afraid she might foil her plan, and guns the accelator. When Rose sees something strange in the road, she swerves to avoid it, and looses control of the car, crashing it and loosing consciousness.

Already, nothing makes sense. If Rose really wanted to investigate an old ghost town because she thought it might hold the answers of her daughter’s fate, she wouldn’t need to bring her daughter with her, and certainly not at the dead of night. There is also no reason why a cop would be suspicious of a mother and daughter travellling together, nor logic behind Rose desperately running away from a cop the way she did. But all of this is just expository claptrap meant to get the pertinet players to the locale of Silent Hill. One would assume that once they get there, things would improve; perhaps there would even be a real story to follow, but this was not to be the case. When Rose wakes up in her car the next morning, the road and town are shrouded in fog. The flurries of snow that drift down to the street reveal themselves to be ashes. As Rose gets her bearings she realizes that Sharon is gone. The rest of the movie involves Rose trying to find her daughter who has disappeared into the deserted town of Silent Hill. The cop that was following Rose shows up a little while later and agrees to help find her daughter.

Silent Hill succeeds at creating a nightmarish landscape with startling visuals and an unsettling atmosphere. A good portion of the first half of the film has little to no dialogue, and just involves Rose running through gruesome locals in the town. The camera work evokes a video game style, and at times also strays into music video territory in that it relies solely on stark images and sound FX to set the mood and tell the story. Perhaps the most terrifying element of the film, are the periods of “darkness” when the town’s demons come out. Every couple of hours in Silent Hill, an air raid horn sounds, and the terrain of the town corrodes and changes. Everything gets dark and horrible monsters begin to roam the streets and buildings of the town. In particular, a demon with a huge black triange for a head, adds to the feeling of a hellish Alice in Wonderland. There were a few moments where I was just completely taken in by the visuals. One bizarre sequence towards the end of the film struck me in particular. Rose is heading to the basement to confront the demon about her daughter and has to pass through an army of faceless, contorted corpses that resembled female nurses. The monsters appeared to be frozen, but would begin to move the moment they were exposed to bright light. As Rose walked past them with her flashlight she had to inch past the wriggling ungodly creatures. It was creepy, but cool at the same time. Though these two minutes did little to justify the price of admission.

The moments of visual artistry, expertly created by director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) remained blips on a radar screen of the boring and incomprehensible. The movie was long, about two hours worth, and with its paltry storyline felt even longer. While nothing of consequence happened in the plot during the first hour and fiften minutes, the last thirty minutes or so were jam packed with flashbacks and “now you’ll know the truth” monologues which drowned out any sort of pacing and atmosphere (albeit slow and uneventful) the movie had achieved.
I felt exhausted after I saw this movie. In part because it was too long, and in part because it was a struggle to make heads or tails of what was going on but mostly because to me Silent Hill is indicative of a larger problem. I would rather see a film devoid of any potential or style, which is just completely abysmal, that watch a potentially interesting concept and unique style be botched into oblivion. To me Silent Hill was just another one of these failed efforts, a film that might have been good, but ended up being really bad. It could be that there were too many cooks in the kitchen, or that the editing was mishandled, or that the script was constantly reworked until it made no sense. It may have hit the goldmine at the box office, but after the money’s raked in, I doubt we will hear from Silent Hill again. That is, until the sequel….


Blogger johpan said...

Great review! I agree in that I felt it wasn't worth the $10 to watch it but being a fan of the series makes you want to watch it opening night.

I'm assuming you haven't played the game since your review didn't rant about how they destroyed the original storyline. But yeah, the movie really didn't do the game any justice (except in the visuals department).

If you want the real story of Silent Hill (and probably the reason why so many people went out to see it because they were expecting the original storyline like myself), I suggest Orca782 and CVXFREAK's Plot Analysis and Silent Pyramid's Plot Analysis. Both continue into the other installments of the series.

I'd love to hear your take on the movie after reading the truth behind Silent Hill.

8:20 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Wow, that is pretty different. Characters were completely cut out, and what I find most interesting is that the protagonist Harry, was thrown to the way side and replaced with a woman --Rose. I think it would have been much more interesting if Harry had remained, as it would have broken genre convention. However, since I still haven't played the games, and am just going off plot summary, it still sounds a little bit convoluted to me... It definitely sounds like a fascinating mythology over all though.

11:28 PM  
Blogger johpan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:05 PM  
Blogger johpan said...

The thing that really ticked me off was how they made Dahlia practically useless compared to how she orchestrated almost everything in the game.

That and the Harry/Rose thing. I think they needed a reason to keep Dahlia in the story so they changed Harry into a girl to keep the theme of a Mother/Daughter connection.

And yeah, it's a messy storyline but I guess that what makes it fun... that or people just have a lot of time on their hands and have over-analyzed the story.


2:08 PM  
Blogger Denisse said...

As I'm reading this, you're all assuming that the Silent Hill movie is based on the SH1 game. IT'S NOT!!! That's why there's no Harry/Cheryl reference. The only people from the SH universe that actually exists in the video game is Dahlia and Cybil. (Key characters in the SH universe)

To me, this is a stand-alone storyline (meaning not directly linked to the SH game or timeline). Almost like its own version of the tale (like the RE movies... which are the WORST VIDEO GAME-inspired MOVIE SERIES. EVER.)

I do not agree with you to give it a low rating. Whether you're new to SH or not, this movie gives enough freedom for the audience to decide whether or not Rose/Sharon made it.

1:48 PM  

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