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  • 15
  • Drama, Fantasy
  • 2006
  • 125 mins

Silent Hill

Silent Hill

Synopsis

Searching for her daughter in a fog-bound town, a mother goes on a journey into hell in this adaptation of the classic videogame from director Christophe Gans

Critic's Review

Against the wishes of her husband Christopher (Sean Bean), Rose DaSilva (Mitchell) takes her disturbed daughter Sharon (Ferland) to Silent Hill, an abandoned mining town whose name Sharon keeps reciting in her sleep. After a freak accident on the way, Rose wakes up alone and begins a frenzied search for Sharon - except that Silent Hill is no ordinary place.

As Rose follows a trail of clues pointing to a young girl named Alessa (also played by Ferland) who is the spitting image of Sharon, she must work out how the two children are connected to each other as well as to a local puritanical cult, before her and her companion, a police officer named Cybil (Holden), are consumed by the town's dark secrets, not to mention by its many hellish denizens, human and otherwise.

Pity the poor fool who attempts to turn a videogame into a feature film. It's not that videogames comprise materials that are inherently less cinematic than, say, the novels, newspaper articles, biographies, songs or even amusement park rides that have been adapted for the big screen. On the contrary, the games that have inspired films from Street Fighter to Double Dragon, from Resident Evil to Doom, not to mention the entire recent output of Uwe Boll (House Of The Dead, Alone In The Dark, BloodRayne), were themselves based on motifs and genres (primarily martial arts and horror) taken straight from the cinema. Yet somehow in their translation from film to game and back to film again, the quality of these materials tends to be degraded, not unlike a third-generation photocopy. In the absence of any really outstanding game adaptations, low expectations are the hereditary curse of the entire sub-genre.

So Silent Hill, adapted from Konami's franchise of 'survivor' videogames of the same name, must contend with a critical mass of preconceived hostility. By those inattentive or impatient viewers who have already made up their minds about such films, it will be (indeed, already has been) all too easily dismissed as incoherent, overlong and far too close to its console origins to be a 'real' movie.

Yet seen without prejudice, it is an unusually rich work of fantasy horror, not so much incoherent as multi-faceted, non-linear, open-ended, and liberally bespattered with the irrational - all qualities which have long been part of the generic tradition of horror, but which also just happen to replicate the experience of attempting an elaborate computer role-playing game like 'Silent Hill' for the first time.

Thanks to its intricately layered narrative, which switches backwards and forwards in time and through multiple dimensions and parallel realities, Silent Hill is a film which, much like the game on which it is based, will offer fresh nuances of detail on each subsequent replay; and the film races along with sufficient speed and variety that its two-hours-plus duration feels more like a frantic dash than the exhausting marathon it might have been. From its straight-down-to-business opening to its eerily crafted dénouement, Silent Hill wastes little time in cutting to the chase.

Director Gans (Crying Freeman, Brotherhood Of The Wolf) has remained painstakingly faithful to the mood and look of the original game. Not only has his talented art department recreated the entire town of Silent Hill in its radically different states of existence (from rain-soaked reality to ash-grey ghost town to dark hell), but even the unsettling camera angles utilised in iconic sets like the Midwich Elementary School, the Grand Hotel and the Brookhaven Hospital have been lifted wholesale from the game's unnerving use of perspective.

If the terrain seems creepily familiar, some fundamental changes in the story ensure that even the most ardent connoisseurs of the game will quickly lose their bearings and become as deliriously disoriented as the protagonist - a character who herself has been entirely re-invented (and re-sexed) to replace the original game's Harry Mason, and whose unbreakable maternal bond to her child brings with it shades of Dark Water and The Forgotten.

In fact, Silent Hill brims with respectful evocations (although not slavish imitations) of supernatural classics as varied as Jacob's Ladder, The Shining, Paperhouse, Hellraiser and The Village, and half the fun here is seeing how Gans interweaves so many cinematic layers into the game's texture.

The film's biggest fault is Roger Avary's screenplay, which in its ingenious conversion of the game's backstory to a workable, if dizzying, narrative, has unfortunately made bloody casualties of elements like credible dialogue and characterisation. Here talk is purely functional, with none of the zing that Avary achieved in his writing on Pulp Fiction or The Rules Of Attraction.

Offsetting this, though, are creative doses of grand guignol (including one sequence in which a woman is stripped in mere seconds of first her clothes and then her skin), a nightmarish panoply of monstrous entities (rendered in an effective combination of latex costuming and post-production CGI), and some topical reflections on the dangers inherent in crusading witch hunts. And although it is rarely if ever jump-out-of-your-seat scary, Silent Hill is an unremittingly creepy municipality of the mind where motherhood, mystery and madness have come home to stay.

In a nutshell: An exquisitely designed portrait of a nightmare world, Silent Hill is the best horror film yet to have been inspired by a video game.

By Anton Bitel

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Kim Coates, Jodelle Ferland, Sean Bean, Christopher Britton, Alice Krige, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Radha Mitchell, Tanya Allen
  • Director: Christophe Gans
  • Screen Writer: Roger Avary, Roger Roberts
  • Writer (Story): Nicolas Boukhrief, Christophe Gans
  • Producer: Samuel Hadida, Don Carmody
  • Photographer: Dan Laustsen
  • Composer: Jeff Danna, Akira Yamaoka

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