There are spoilers within. Proceed with caution.
To most Horror Survival gamers out there, Silent Hill is lord and master. It’s simply the best there is out there. It has very high production values, fantastic story-telling that would make Lovecraft and Clive Barker proud and leave Stephen King wondering why he never thought of that. It’s the kind of game that you tell yourself it won’t go there and yet it does. And I couldn’t resist the nightmarish aesthetics because the fantasy world of the games looks a lot like dreams that wake me up at night.
When Silent Hill the movie was announced I cringed in fear. I thought to myself, here we go and they’ll either get Paul W.S. Anderson or Uwe Boll to produce and direct and it’ll be another Resident Evil clone schlock fest the likes only these two clowns can make. No movie based on a video game has EVER been good… until now.
It is good, just not great. But now I believe that maybe it is possible to make a good movie from a game. Just as long as you don’t let Anderson or Boll near the project. This should be a rule of thumb in Hollywood. Because handing out the movie to Christophe Gans was a stroke of genius. You may or may not remember the brilliant Pacte Des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf), which was his baby.
Gans went all out to make the film look and feel exactly like the games and he sublimely succeeded. From the instant the film begins, you know this is Silent Hill. A mother runs out looking for her sleepwalking daughter who is found screaming “Silent Hill, Silent Hill.” Classic Silent Hill ethos.
And when we do get to Silent Hill, the gamer in the audience will feel like he’s playing the best looking version of the game. It looks exactly like the town used in the games. The camera angles are all the same, the feel, the texture, and even the music exactly the same, the lighting and, of course, that ever freaky fog. In the game, the fog is the first thing that freaks you out with its realism, its denseness, and its foreboding presence. But again, the music, very symbolic in the game, is so perfectly well replayed here that it brings even more dread. Most of the themes are ripped directly from the game titles. The movie credits end with the pop-rock song heard at the end of Silent Hill 3.
With the exception of the creepy-crawlies, the monsters in this movie are not CG-fabricated lifeless animated bores. Gans went old-school and created monsters out of latex and they were expertly executed. And the game’s favorites show up. Those two-legged meat bags that spew acidic liquid, The Red Pyramid (or Pyramid Head), those wacky nurses, and a whole lot more.
The violence and the gore. It has to be mentioned is pretty gruesome for some people. Roasting children alive in a fire might not go over well with some viewers. And someone gets flayed alive in one swoop that kind of reminded me of Willow’s rampage in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but much, much bloodier and macabre. Some of the violence and gore go over the top, but remember, these people are stuck in some kind of hell dimension, so anything is pretty much possible. But I must shamefully admit that this is the kind of gore I look forward to in horror movies. Not the BOO! moments of which there are none in this film, but the kind of revolting gore that makes you wince and your stomach contents curdle. The cries of little children emanating from the Mumblers just before their ashes fly up in to the air, when the janitor shows up in demon form, screaming bloody hell — I was in horror geek heaven.
But here’s where the film starts to lose some steam and this is important for this geek critic: storytelling and character development are lacking.
The story idea is great and falls perfectly into the Silent Hill mythos, but it feels a bit shuffled. I could easily blame that on the fact that most Silent Hill games take over 10 hours to complete the adventure and this was only two hours. But still, things sometimes happen too slowly and at other times too quickly.
The characters are on the very 2-dimensionnal side, delivering lines of deep emotionality with cold as ice bad acting. And some of the lines they must mumble are poorly delivered and sometimes just plain stupid. Also, as a character who’s just been besieged by Mumblers as your first introduction to the madness of Silent Hill, she’s pretty upbeat about it, not too terrorized once it’s over. Let’s not gloss over the whole floorless-floor scene where she must traverse a floor with only the supporting beams left between her and the little girl, only to have Miss Tough-as-nails-cop throw her a conveniently hanging electrical cable, which mom uses to swing over with such ease, she looks like she’s been doing this all her life. Once again, done for efficiency, I suppose.
There is one character who’s very well played. Sharron/Alessa played by cute as button Jodelle Ferland. She has to be a little girl and an avatar for a demon and she’s pretty damn good at it, delivering some mature ghastly lines and making it believable.
In general, I am satisfied with Silent Hill, which I will definitely purchase on DVD. Just seeing the Red Pyramid show up in his usual laissez-faire way was enough for me to love this movie. The fog was enough. And the final Boss at the end in the church was so original and not typical of horror movies that it was good enough for me. And I’ll also give the movie points for failing to execute certain clichés.
Despite all the women in this movie, none of them suddenly decided it was shower time. There were no false-positive scares like an ironing board falling out of its closet. And thank the gods of Silent Hill for not giving us a big shoot-out or a big explosion (or both) to end the movie. No Milla in mesh tops, tiny skirts so short they qualify as a belts, wearing hump-me boots — character-killing everything that moves with a high powered weapon too heavy for skinny half-naked model to lift. Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Gans.
The film ends with an open storyline, just ready for Silent Hill 2. And I want it to happen. But despite the film surpassing all other game-based films and its geeky goodness (to which only the gamers will relate), the film has some flaws that irk me and I didn’t get that funny queasy feeling I get from the games, so I can only give it a passing grade of 3 outta 5. Though it’s not enough, 4 would be too much. I await thee on DVD with many extras.