In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill…
There are certain experiences that are consigned to particular media for one reason or another. As well as HBO has adapted Game of Thrones, the full expansiveness of the world and characters created by George RR Martin is best experienced in its original doorstopper book form. Hearing a song by Lady Gaga doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her perform the song live on stage. And some video games are best left as video games, and not made into, say, movies. Nobody told this to director Christoph Gans, however, when he took the helm of 2006’s Silent Hill.
Chris and Rose Da Silva adopted a little girl named Sharon nine years ago. Sharon’s started having some really bad dreams and always screams the words ‘Silent Hill’. Convinced that the haunted town that bears the same name holds the answer to her daughter’s torment, Rose puts Sharon in her Jeep and drives to the town. When Chris follows, he’s stopped by a police cordon and the ladies are nowhere in sight. Rose, however, loses Sharon quickly after her Jeep crashes, and wanders the town pursued by a dedicated motorcycle cop, a fiendish cult of witch-burners and, for some reason, nurses with big tits. Because big boobs sell more tickets.
For those of you just coming out from under your rocks, Silent Hill is a video game series in which the town of the title is plagued by a singular problem. You can be walking through the town, which seems normal, only to turn a corner or emerge from an elevator and find yourself in another world entirely. It’s a dark reflection of our own, populated by creatures spawned from abysses beyond our ken and, in some cases, based heavily on our own fears, doubts and unrequited appetites. As the games progressed, the stillness and isolation that brought those fears out of us as we played petered out, replaced with the typical slavering bad guys to be bloodily dispatched with blunt objects seen in most horror games released in the West. But we’re here to talk about the movie, right? Right.
Remember, even if you don’t smoke, always have a lighter handy.
The problem with many adaptations, provided they aren’t coming from a studio dedicated solely to bridging the gap between two media (which Marvel appears to have done with fraking rainbows), is the committees assembled by the money-hungry executives are so busy patching together fan favorite characters and moments that they completely miss whatever point the original story might have had. The point of the Silent Hill games defended to this day in spite of their dated graphics, terrible voice acting and asinine plots is being alone in a cloying darkness with something that hates you, not simply disgusting monsters and fiends in human skin just waiting for you to put a hole in them with a bullet or a bludgeon. Instead of a story of self-exploration, the film Silent Hill pits Rose against the town with the town’s only motivation being the sort of generic evil force that chased Bruce Campbell through a forest and forced him to cut off his own hand with a chainsaw.
The interesting wrinkle in terms of story is that the cult isn’t motivated by drug deals for tourism or awakening eldritch abominations, they’re just good old-fashioned Bible-thumpers that know their Jesus, loving savior of all mankind that He is, cannot and will not suffer a witch to live even if said witch is a nine-year-old girl. The purity of purpose these people cling to is something actually frightening about this story, since I know people this simple-minded and blinded by unquestioning religious fervor exist. It’s one of the things about the movie that works.
Hey, kids! It’s Pyramid Head! *applause*
What doesn’t work is the transition between worlds. Silent Hill usually consists of our world and its dark reflection, but Silent Hill the movie ups the ante with a third world in between. There’s our world, a sort of parallel dimension covered in perpetual fog and ash and the signature dark hellish place populated with creatures from the franchise who pretty much showed up because representations of sexual repression and masculine aggression have bills to pay too. As mentioned before, switching between worlds in the games often happened without preamble, effectively blurring the lines of reality and causing the player to question what exactly was happening. The line between worlds in the movie is a very bold, clearly defined one, and there’s a nice loud air raid siren just in case you aren’t sure. To say nothing of all that nice creeping CGI on those environments! Boy, I bet those games from the PS2 era are just besides themselves with jealousy.
Despite having all its subtlety removed, its signature creatures reduced to generic horror baddies, the world structure unnecessarily complicated and the twist ending having no explanation whatsoever and all the impact of a wet noodle, Silent Hill is not without redeeming qualities. While the world of fog and ash is somewhat baffling, it and it alone brings on the feeling of stillness and isolation that made the games so memorable. It’s juxtaposed with our world once or twice to great effect, and if the movie had just been about that divide and Rose and Chris trying to reach each other across it, the film might have really worked. There’s some excellent sound design, some effective use of music and a scene in a bathroom that carries more tension in a few short moments than most of the exposition-laden second half holds. And then there’s the way the character of Cybil looks in those leather pants. … Sue me, I’m a straight male human.
The movie also passes the Bechdel Test like a champ.
Imagine, if you will, a cookie where the chocolate chips are actual chocolate, but the dough is actually made of insulation foam, and you don’t realize it until it was already in your mouth. That’s the film adaptation of Silent Hill put concisely. The few moments where some artistic choices overshadow the Frankensteinian construction of the movie and the fraying threads of plot used to stitch it together are simply not worth watching it fall to bloody pieces. I have to say this one is not worth your time. There are better horror films, better psychological ones and better video game adaptations.
Oh, I almost forgot. Sean Bean is in this, and he doesn’t die. It would have been nice to see his character do something useful, but I guess that he, like us, became trapped without recourse or pity in a lonely world not of our making. At least Pyramid Head didn’t show up out of nowhere to decapitate the poor guy.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.