I recall reading somewhere that Stephen King once classified two types of horror. The first type was mental or psychological horror, featured in movies like Rosemary’s Baby or Jacob’s Ladder. The second type was the more physical, gross-out sort of horror used in 98% of the monster movies and slasher films. I’m having a hard time recalling any psychological horror films from the last five years or so. It seems like every film we’ve gotten lately settles for the much easier to pull off gross-out. Silent Hill, however, doesn’t take the easy way out.
The film opens with an average suburban couple looking for their missing daughter. The young girl, Sharon, has a history of sleep walking and the parents haven’t been able to find her anywhere in the house. After a harrowing search, they finally find her only to realize that she’s still asleep and mumbling about a town called Silent Hill. Sharon has mentioned this place before and now her distraught mother, Rose, begins to think Silent Hill may be a secret from her daughter’s past.
Determined to get to the root of suspected psychological trauma, Rose takes her adopted daughter on a trip to find the town of Silent Hill. Despite the closed lips of neighboring townspeople, Rose succeeds in finding Silent Hill. And much, much, more…
From the very beginning, Silent Hill grabbed my undivided attention and refused to let it go until the closing credits. The movie is extremely well paced with the tension continuing to build until its extremely intense climax. Having never played the game (Yes, this movie is based on a video game by the same name; no, that doesn’t automatically make it lame. Bloodrayne did suck, but remember Resident Evil? That movie rocked!), I had no idea what was going to happen or how it was going to end. I was not only satisfied with the logic and progression of the plot, but the ending and wrap-up as well.
As Silent Hill is more location- than character-driven, I don’t have too much to say about the film’s cast. While the performances never blew me away, they never interfered with my enjoyment of the movie or my suspension of disbelief either. I will give credit to the casting director though, for placing normal looking actors in the movie instead of resorting to big names in order to sell more tickets. Perhaps this is only because none of the A-List showed interest, but I will hold that it was a clever casting decision in an effort to keep our attentions on mood and theme instead of pretty faces.
Admittedly, I did smile I little when I realized that it was indeed Deborah Kara Unger almost unrecognizable in the role of Dahlia Gillespie (the bag lady, you can’t miss her). Unger continues to show a knack for popping up with supporting roles in some of my favorite films.
Jeff Danna took heavy influence from Akira Yamaoka, who designed the original game’s score. The result was an incredibly appropriate music that opted for purely instrumental sounds 9 times out of 10. The soundtrack is laced with some of the creepiest music I’ve heard in the theater in a very long time. Since the town of Silent Hill is usually, well, silent, I can’t help but think a score heavy on vocals would have distracted from the mood.
The most powerful aspect of Silent Hill however, is entirely visual. The town of Silent Hill consists of some of the creepiest set design, starkest palettes, and best use of CGI that I’ve seen. The Silent Hill of fog was absolutely stunning with entire sets washed out and ranging only from gray to even more gray. The Silent Hill of darkness is equally impressive. Fantastic CGI burning/smoldering effects are coupled with several moments of absolute darkness. I mean to say that the screen would go absolutely black for a few tense seconds before the image would return being lit only by natural sources such as a flashlight or a Zippo. It was also a pleasant change of pace to see most of Silent Hill‘s ‘monsters’ being played by real people instead of computer graphics. The realism provided by them made the entire experience that much creepier.
One final mention goes to the ending: no worries, I’m not going to spoil anything for you. I simply feel the need to point out that Silent Hill‘s climax has a different feel than the bulk of the film.
Think of 100 minutes at a slow jazz concert ending with 10 minutes of pulse-pounding ROCK and you’ll get the basic idea. Some viewers may find the climax a bit odd, disconcerting, unwarranted, or just out of place. On the other hand, the rest (myself included) will find the end to be the welcomed release of 100 minutes of slowly and expertly built tension.
If you haven’t already figured it out, I liked Silent Hill quite a bit. I’m a big fan of horror movies and this one has been instantly added to my Top 10 Horror list. Though the gross-out is used at the end of the film, psychological horror is used to incredible effect throughout the rest of it.
I rarely feel right using the word creepy to describe a movie because very few ever are, but Silent Hill is just that. And I can’t give enough credit to a horror movie that doesn’t resort to startling the audience with loud, sudden noises. That trick was tired years ago people! I would recommend Silent Hill to mystery fans (enjoy following the clues), hard-core gamers (impress friends by pointing out where the movie “got it wrong”), Asian horror fans (it’s based on an Asian game after all), new media people (marvel at the impressive use of CGI), and horror fans in general. I would not recommend it to viewers who have difficulty suspending disbelief (you should really work on that) or horror fans who prefer physical scares over psychological ones.
Creepy, cerebral, and gorgeous in a way that only a horror movie could pull off.
Through the vast majority of the film, most of the action simply involves the main character getting away from things. The ending feels different than the preceding, this may be enough to leave a bad taste in the mouths of some.
On the Side:
Contrary to popular belief, Silent Hill hardly uses any computer generated imagery. The most notable use of CGI is the fog that drenches the town. Most creatures are live actors covered in latex and makeup.
Final Grade: B (A for Horror Fans)
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Deborah Kara Unger
Directed by: Christophe Gans
Writing Credits: Roger Avary (screenplay) Nicolas Boukhrief (story) Christophe Gans (story)
Release Date: April 21, 2006
Country: USA, Japan, France
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images, and some language.
Run Time: 127 min.
Studio: Sony Pictures
By Jarvis Mishler, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects