Director: Christophe Gans
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden
Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images and some language.
Silent Hill is the best possible movie that can be wrung from a video game. That is both the good and the bad news.
Hollywood has been foisting video game based movies on the world for over a decade now, and it’s sort of incredible that anyone still thinks it’s a good idea. While a few have been profitable, none are good films, and most are the sort of embarrassing dreck that nobody wants on the ol’ resume. Still, at the time of this writing, I know of at least four more that are either in development or production. I guess we mustn’t underestimate the depths to which Hollywood will sink to avoid coming up with an original idea. Ah, but I’ve wandered off topic.
I’ve not played the Silent Hill games (there are five), so I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the movie adaptation, but I can say that the film unfolds just like a video game. That is, there’s an intriguing setup, an apocalyptic conclusion, and a lot of repetitive running around in between. (Come to think of it, it’s remarkable how many big Hollywood flicks have become just like that.) The movie looks terrific and delivers a few genuinely creepy moments, but the premise simply doesn’t hold up for two hours and more.
Nine-year-old Sharon Da Silva (Jodelle Ferland) suffers from memory lapses and draws disturbing pictures of people in torment (a sure sign that she’s either possessed by a devil or has been watching other horror movies on cable). If that weren’t enough, she’s recently started muttering “Silent Hill” while sleepwalking. Sharon’s mother Rose (Radha Mitchell) Googles “Silent Hill” and discovers that it’s a ghost town in West Virginia, abandoned thirty years ago after underground fires consumed or poisoned most of the residents. Rose decides, as any mother would, to take little Sharon to the site of the tragedy. Her husband Chris (Sean Bean) is against the idea, but Rose’s motherly intuition tells her if she doesn’t do this, there won’t be a movie.
So Rose all but kidnaps little Sharon and heads for Silent Hill. Along the way she raises the ire of an impossibly beautiful motorcycle cop named Cybil, and after a high speed chase they all crash on the outskirts of the titular town. Rose is knocked unconscious, and when she comes to, little Sharon is gone. Much to their horror, Rose and Cybil discover that Silent Hill is no ordinary ghost town. It is home to a Strange and Unspeakable Evil. Unfortunately, little Sharon is not only tormented by the Evil, but just might have something to do with its Unspeakableness in the first place.
Meanwhile, Rose’s husband Chris discovers what his wife has done. He follows her to West Virginia and does a lot of whining while a mysterious detective tries to prevent him from learning anything about Silent Hill’s mysterious past.
It’s an intriguing setup, but from there the story cruises into a holding pattern. Rose and Cybil run from one redundant scene to the next, meeting assorted apparitions along the way. The sets are marvelous, the special effects are well-done, and the demons are wonderfully creative. Two scenes in particular gave me the chills; one involves a dead janitor in dire need of a chiropracter, and the other features a medieval torturer with some kind of toaster on his head.
The third act is ushered in by that most unfortunate of devices: an all-knowing character appears and explains everything in excruciating detail. The back-story is unbelievably complex (even fans of the game can’t agree on what, exactly, the story is), and the scene carries on forever. The only thing not explained is why it took so long for the explicator to show up. Armed with the knowledge they need, Rose and Cybil scream, sweat and swagger their way to the final showdown, an extravaganza of blood and mayhem.
The problem with video game adaptations is fundamental. Games offer an immersive experience, films offer a vicarious one. A good adaptation would remain true to the source material, a good film would necessarily diverge. Even if you overlook Silent Hill‘s laughable dialogue, unrealistic motivation and muddled plot, the film can’t overcome it’s most basic problem: it was written for the Playstation.