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A Blast From the Past
For many, the title Silent Hill represents a classic video game franchise that has made its mark in the horror genre forever. To the point where even horror movie lovers, such as myself, are aware of the immense reputation that the games have in the horror world. Regardless of the fact that Silent Hill has made minimal impact in terms of film. I will admit that I have not played any of the games. At the most, a friend of mine brought one of the titles over to my house that I played all of 30 minutes’ worth before we got distracted with other activities to do… She was a very pretty friend… Anyways, so obviously I’m not at all familiar with the game series. Although I do have familiarity with a video game title that Silent Hill has just recently collaborated with, Dead By Daylight, which is another type of survival horror game for the modern age. Because of this latest combined effort to bring Silent Hill a revival of sorts, my interest in the franchise has slightly resurfaced.
All that being said about my lack of history with the games, I do, however, have a little history with the two theatrically released films from 2006 and 2012. The first time I ever saw the 2006 movie was during my early days at the Art Institute, if I were to guess then I’d say approximately 2012, soon before its sequel was set to be released into theaters. At the time, I thought the 2006 picture was okay at best. Nothing spectacular, not bad by any stretch, just relatively underwhelming for my initiation into the world of Silent Hill. At the time, I remember being delighted by the grotesque and gory visuals while simultaneously finding the story to be unfocused, some of the dialog to be clumsy, and mostly a picture I deemed to fall under the camp of ‘style over substance’.
As I have already declared previously, I have no prior knowledge of the video games whatsoever. Therefore, I will not be comparing and/or contrasting the similarities or differences between the two properties. This is not a review of how the 2006 feature holds up as an adaptation, this will be critiqued strictly on its own merits as a form of cinematic entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. So I apologize to anyone who may be searching for someone who would discuss more on the source material, but unfortunately, that won’t be happening in this article. Please do not read my review from the point of view of someone who has played any of the video games, but rather a general moviegoer.
Revisiting Silent Hill
Roughly eight years later, after taking a trip back into Silent Hill and what do I think of it now? Honestly, it holds up better than I remembered and I actually had a really good time watching this movie again. Do some of my previous complaints still ring true? Admittedly, yes, but they didn’t nearly bother me as much as they had from my original viewing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to accomplish describing as to why those reasons might be later on. As of right now, I am fairly glad I gave this movie another chance practically a decade later. By no means do I find this to be a masterpiece, although I do believe this may be somewhat of an underrated gem as it seems most don’t acknowledge this movie much at all within the horror community. Which is a shame seeing how now I appreciate the macabre world with a surreal Alice in Wonderland journey meets Hellraiser, there’s a lot of fun to be had here!
Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) has a young adopted daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), who is suffering night terrors and premonitions of a mystery town called Silent Hill. Leading this determined mother into an investigation of the desolated nightmarish town, upon reaching the place however becomes a search for her lost daughter as strange creatures begin hunting them down.
Adapting A Video Game Into A Feature Length Film
When we look back at the history of video game titles being adapted into motion pictures, the track record isn’t what anyone would call “pristine quality.” Super Mario Bros.? That was a bust. The Angry Birds Movie? Definition of a sh*tty conveyer belt kids flick. Warcraft? Punishingly generic and boring as sin. The Tomb Raider and Resident Evil franchises have garnered some success with minimal acclaim though. Mortal Kombat? First mistake was being rated PG-13, when the title is based on hard R material, that’s a big “no, no.” Assassin’s Creed? I may have been the only person in the world that enjoyed that movie. Doom completely missed the mark on the high octane hellish chaos that was the spirit of the original games. At least Sonic the Hedgehog was funny, right? Oh and let’s all do ourselves a favor by not bringing Uwe Boll into the discussion, shall we? That’d be swell!
Anyways, there does not seem to be any specific go-to example of when a film successfully has made the jump from pixels on the home television onto the big screen. And before anyone says it, no, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does not count because that wasn’t based on a real video game. As entertaining as that movie is, no. Just no. Now looking back though with my brand new re-evaluation of this particular entry of the 2006 Silent Hill, I have to admit that this is a strong contender for being one of the best video game flicks that I’ve personally ever seen. On a technical standpoint that is, not necessarily as a faithful recreation of its predecessors.
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Oddly enough, one of the most bizarre aspects about this film is how the story is equal parts one of the strongest and weakest elements of this whole picture. As difficult as my statement might be to process, allow me to elaborate. Essentially what we have here is narrative that is a more nightmare inducing rendition of Alice lost in Wonderland; a woman finding herself trapped within a realm of insanity and surreal imagery around every corner as the environment in itself feels completely alive as everything and everyone around is totally crazy while sometimes trying to kill her. Delving a little deeper, at the heart of this story we have a pure and simple motivation for our hero; the love of a mother in search of her missing daughter, which to me is a solid propellant to keep the plot always moving forward.
Easily one of the greatest achievements of this screenplay is the fact that is extremely unpredictable as to what horrors our heroine will face next. Seemingly around every corner awaits another terror to strike. Which honestly, most of the frights leave a hell of an impact and are remarkably memorable; from the distorted demonic looking children, the man strung up in a crucifixion pose on a rusty fence, the ever intimidating colossal Pyramid Head/Red Pyramid, and the sexy faceless killer nurses of course! There are several sequences throughout the entire runtime that I find myself thinking back on in sheer fondness over, even more than the ones I’ve just mentioned. Because these thrilling sequences give such a punch and are so constant, the pacing doesn’t let up. Which I definitely mean that in a good way! We even open up the picture on a note that instantly gets the story running, a refreshing change of pace that defies the stereotypical structure that drags in most prototypical horror flicks.
Now, where my problem lies in terms of story is that when I’m viewing some of these incredibly horrifying scenes, I can’t help, but yearn to get my hands on the controller to play my way through them like video game levels. These moments feel less like they were meant to simply be viewed and more so that they’re crafted to interact within. I mean, which is true seeing how these are creatures and iconic sequences from video games. However, because that mentality is so heavily ingrained into the narrative, sometimes it feels as though I’m not experiencing this journey firsthand. It’s as though there’s a second party in charge of my playthrough while I’m kind of held against my will from getting a turn. Yet if I whine to mom about having my turn, I’ll just get smacked in the back of the head. Rude.
Then as we arrive in the third act, when it’s time to explain everything going on in Silent Hill, that’s a particularly distracting segment as it legitimately does feel as though the film turns into a five-minute video game cut scene while a narrator randomly appears to exposit over a projected presentation comprised of what appears to be deleted scenes in order to explain to the audience why all this craziness is transpiring. Now, I’m fairly certain that there was a far less clumsy way of elaborating on the origins of this mysterious event plaguing the town, but this is the avenue they chose to do… And it’s an extremely awkward and out-of-place scene for it. Not necessarily terrible, however, it’s fairly obvious the writer or the editor had some form of issues including the explanation into the narrative, so they crafted a poorly thought out exposition dump leading into the climax.
So while I certainly appreciate the creativity of these signature scares that keep up the brisk pace relatively unpredictable, especially for a two hour runtime, there is the occasional fumble that keeps it from being perfect. Better suited for the format of a video game rather than a feature film, causing the viewer to be strangely dissatisfied with simply watching a movie. To be fair, it’s also possibly a positive to have such exciting ideas for the viewer to experience that they truly want to interact inside this creepy world. Objectively speaking, the three-act structure isn’t quite stable as the lead characters are simply going from one challenge onto the next just like a video game. Regardless, I still believe it succeeds at being an entertaining adventure.
Rose Da Silva / Radha Mitchell
From what I understand, there is supposedly a slight controversy over matters concerning the main character of the original game; Harry Mason, a father in search of his lost daughter within the foggy town of Silent Hill. As one may have guessed, Harry had a sex change in the script department who became Rose the determined mother looking for her daughter instead. To anyone who might be a fan of the games and declare sin on the film for making this specific sex change, I’m here to say that I do not care. I’m sorry, I’m sure that the character of Harry is great, I just don’t care. The change made to the main character going from male to female makes absolutely no difference to me as I’m judging the character writing and acting entirely on the movie alone.
That said, Rose is a very stale and underwritten character. There’s nothing to her personality, no remanence of development or an arc of any kind; she exists to get the story from point A to point B while reacting to the creepy sh*t going down and that is all. Nothing more, nothing less. Actress Radha Mitchell does what she can with the character and performs her heart out as she is beautifully talented, but there’s not enough on the page to separate the character from being a generic vessel for the audience to travel through the mayhem with.
Granted, I do appreciate the themes of motherhood implemented with Rose and other characters that she meets on her journey. There are clever ideas here coinciding along with how this is practically an entirely female led horror film, which is also rather exciting as the majority of the main protagonists and antagonists are performed by women. To me, that is pretty awesome! Trouble being, I only wish that these ladies were slightly more well written and interesting characters, especially that of mother Rose who does very little to charm the viewer.
Cybil Bennett / Laurie Holden
From what I can tell, there doesn’t appear to be any controversy over this character. Still wouldn’t care either way. Police Officer Cybil, played by Laurie Holden, has potential and on rare occasions does perform a cool act within the story. Yet when we boil it all down, we find the same problems we faced with the Rose character, which is that there is a lack of personality and development. Who is this person? A cop. What does she want? To help and make it out of this hell alive. Who is she though? I don’t know, a cop is the best answer we’re going to get out of that. What’s she like? She’s like a cop. We continue going around and around in circles here when really the basic and most true answer here is that she is a one dimensional character. Again, actress Holden does the best she can with what’s given, but what’s given is not enough to engage the viewer in any way.
Sharon / Alessa / Jodelle Ferland
Another set of female characters with zero dimensionality within their writing, although still helmed by the actress with absolute talent. Jodelle Ferland is handed the task of performing not one, not two, but three roles in this picture. To explain exactly why would be getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll be dancing around specific details. However, Ferland is given no easy feat as she has to jump between cheery innocence, downright terrified, and total creepy sadistic child demon. Which she undoubtedly does marvelous jobs in all territories of her performances.
Again though, her characters like the rest, I yearn for more. In terms of her Sharon character, I would have preferred getting either more personality from her or more of a connection between her and her mother, Rose. Unfortunately, it seems that Ferland’s characters get very minimal screen time to shine. An absolute shame in my opinion because I would have loved seeing more of her unnerving performance as Alessa spread into the runtime, I could definitely tell the young actress was having a real good time being evil as it is one of the shining performances in the entire movie.
Christopher Da Silva / Sean Bean
Alright, I’m very confused about this one small tidbit… Sean Bean didn’t die? But Sean Bean always dies in his movies. I think it’s in his contract. He always dies. Always! Who in the hell messed that up?! All you have to do is impale him with a boat anchor, throw him off of a giant satellite, shoot him in the head, shoot him in the head again, and/or run him over with a stampede of cows. I’m not asking for much here.
A major weakness in this film, possibly the biggest one, is that of the dialog. The writing ranges from mostly run of the mill standard to particularly clunky exposition. For instance, out of nowhere leading into the third act, Rose announces awkwardly to Cybil how her daughter was apparently adopted all along and goes on a small explanation as to how that doesn’t matter. To me, clocking at approximately an hour and a half in was a smidge too late to be dropping information like this, for no good reason as well. At no point am I ever engaged in what the characters have to say, only what they have to do and go through. Which makes me sound like the dismissive jerk boyfriend, but I cannot tell a lie when I say these people are boring.
Visually speaking, this is Silent Hill’s crowning achievement in my eyes because everything from the ambitiously eerie cinematography to the grungy set designs and visceral makeup/practical effects are all gorgeously crafted. Truth be told, a significant component that drew me into this movie so much and gripped me immediately was the hauntingly gloomy style that drenches the entire frame from start to finish. At no point do I ever feel as though I’ve visited a world quite like this in a horror movie. Yes, it does incorporate imagery that reminds me of past properties such as Hellraiser or Event Horizon. However, Silent Hill maintains a sense of originality in its grand scope yet claustrophobic nature.
This is a perfect case where the movie’s style is a major reason how it can still succeed at immersing the viewer directly into its breathtaking environment while still lacking in the writing department. Maybe it’s the “dark and tortured” artist in me, but I adored simply exploring this ghostly town of bloody madness. Every ounce of creativity going into all of these inspired and deranged visuals are beyond exciting to behold, to the point where it honestly encourages me to re-watch the film once more already. This is something I typically don’t do, but this film’s gruesome vision is so well done I just wish to see it all over again. Bizarre creatures, a unique world, and several terrific effects to boot!
Alright, so I know that obviously I just gushed over the visuals of the picture… Including the majority of its effects. However, there’s a small portion of the visuals that haven’t quite aged as well as the rest. Specifically in terms of the computer generated imagery, which is not the worst by any means, but some of it looks fairly weak when compared to much of the practical elements achieved in camera. There is some CGI throughout the film that does legitimately hold up and still manages to look solid. Then occasionally there are moments that look… Not so good.
An example of CG that hasn’t held up is the weird fiery babies, which is strange seeing how they made practical suits for people to wear and run around in and the filmmakers claim that those particular creatures would be minimally touched up with CG in post-production. Yet seeing the final result of the twisty baby demon things, they look entirely made out of CGI. I’m not sure why, but there’s no weight to them. Same comment goes for some of the barbed wire effects that are found in the climax, which aren’t terrible, but still are noticeably CG.
When it comes to any knowledge pertaining to the original Silent Hill games, there is very little I am personally privileged with. One of the few things I am aware of though is the musical score being mostly comprised from the game soundtracks by composer Akira Yamaoka. Which are undeniably beautiful to listen to; terrifically orchestrated styles that stretch from pure gothic horror to heavy industrial chords to delicate keys of the piano. The range of the score is vast and every note sounds perfect through and through. In fact, in terms of the entire sound design, it is immaculate and I cannot praise enough about how incredible the attention to detail in the audio and the music combined. Encompassing a bleakness unparalleled by many modern horror pictures today. Not to mention, I don’t believe that there’s been as an iconic and effective signature sound appear in the last fifteen years as much as those ear rattling sirens of Silent Hill.
Is Silent Hill one of the greatest horror films ever made? No, but it’s probably the best horror movie based on a video game ever made and generally an overlooked entry within the genre that I believe deserves a tiny bit more love. Crafting a stunning world rich with darkly twisted ideas that is eye candy for any horror lover out there. The story keeps up the pace as the monsters keep up the surreal intensity. Not a perfect film, as I mentioned, there are issues with character development and writing of dialog in general, but there’s still creepy fun to be discovered with cool ideas and themes to explore. If anyone reading hasn’t already checked out Silent Hill or it’s been a while with your initial viewing being underwhelming like mine, give this another chance as it might end up providing a surprise upon a second screening. Anyone who takes my advice, I truly do hope that you enjoy your stay in Silent Hill!
That’s All Folks!
Silent Hill… An underappreciated treasure or a mess of an adaptation? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Have a favorite video game to film adaptation? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a spooky good day!
Best Silent Hill Adventure
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 John Plocar