Starring Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland
Directed by Christophe Gans
The town of Silent Hill sits quietly among the mountains. The stores sit empty, the streets vacant, and cars lay about as if frozen in time. Ash falls from the sky like a sweet winter’s snow. As you step down these streets, your footfalls’ echo is your only company … but there is something else. Down an alley nearby there is a scratching. As you draw closer, a low, strained moan lends accompaniment. Your first thought is that someone is in distress, but finding the source of these sounds reveals otherwise. You are staring into the face if something horrible … something not right … and it is lurching toward you.
The video game series Silent Hill hoped to draw the player into a soft sense of security before forcing you into therapy with images seemingly from hell itself. The movie adaptation proves to be just as ambitious. From the opening scene Silent Hill grabs you by the throat and shakes every so often to make sure you don’t miss a second of what’s happening to you. You start in the world we all live in. It’s not perfect, but it’s home. Little Sharon Da Silva (Ferland) is plagued by nightmares of a place she doesn’t seem to remember when she wakes. Her mother Rose (Mitchell), hoping to save the sanity of her ailing child, packs up the car and with child in tow heads for the place her daughter has made real through her screams. Speeding along the mountain road, their car spins out of control, knocking Rose unconscious. When she awakens, her daughter is gone. Now, aided only by police officer Cybil Bennet (Holden) and the clues left behind by what appears to be her daughter, Rose ventures into Silent Hill and is ultimately caught up in its secrets.
Our first glimpses of Silent Hill come at a frenzied pace as Rose searches solo for her daughter. For a fan of the game coming down the main street is like returning to a neighborhood you spent time in as a child. The air is thick with soot, limiting your visibility to mere feet. Everything seems like a realistic photocopy of its game counterpart complete with storefronts, mailboxes, and street signs. Rounding a corner and down an alley, Rose breezes through back streets with garage doors and signs of life long since past strewn about, all too familiar. This absence of life heightens your anticipation for what you know could be around any corner, whether you’ve played the game or not. Sooner or later Rose finds her way indoors when an air raid-like siren sounds and her world goes from a quiet gray to a violent black. Ash covered streets are replaced with wet walks reflecting a glowing fire somewhere below. Decay has taken hold, and rust seems to have overtaken not only steel frames but also walls and anything touching them. In this newly shifted world something shrieks and twitches and almost longs for Rose’s flesh.
These scenes are intense! I can’t even recall the last time I was so locked into a movie. Radha Mitchell’s fear is so real it becomes your own. It’s not you just watching Rose flee in terror … it’s you on the edge of your seat waiting to be able to catch your breath. Believability had to be high to pull off a lot of the scares of Silent Hill, and Mitchell comes through big time. Laurie Holden is no slouch either, playing Cybil as a no-nonsense cop, duty bound and tough as they come until thrust into a situation that should not be real. You can watch her face go through 10k emotions as she, instead of rationalizing what is happening, turns to Rose and yells, “You saw that, didn’t you?! What the fuck!!” Look out too for supporting cast member Deborah Kara Unger, whose unearthly features brought the character of Dahlia from haggard mess to unhinged and supernatural. I’ve also got to very quickly sing the praises of Jodelle Ferland, who raises the creepy little long-haired girl character to an art form. Remember the cheesy demony voice from the commercials as she says, “I am the Reaper”? Gone. All Jodelle needs is her timid little voice to deliver lines guaranteed to send a chill to your nether regions. Minimalist makeup makes the young actress appear less demonic and more like a fractured porcelain doll that’s taken some lumps and has had enough. Jodelle is at once the picture of innocence and the mouth of hell. Watch and you’ll see what I mean!
After a time we become like Pavlov’s dog, conditioned to sink into our seats with the blasting of every siren. I mean … come on!! Isn’t a ghost town with ash falling from the sky bad enough? You have to watch hell take over every few hours or so, too? With hell comes familiar video game characters like the skittering black bugs, the faceless nurses, and fan favorite Pyramid Head. I’ll save the rest, unseen in commercials and clips, as a surprise. None of these characters disappoint. Director Christophe Gans proves he has studied this game time and again and recreates every aspect with painstaking detail. When it comes to the creatures, Gans takes the uneasy feelings stirred up by these demons and folds that into visceral, surreal manifestations the likes of which only Clive Barker could imagine. Sound plays a huge part in sucking you into the story. Music drives you through scenes dictating the pace, reflecting feeling and sometimes forcing your internal need to want to run. Sound effects blast across the theater adding some “jump moments” to an already heart-wrenching ride. The combination of all these elements creates a fully cohesive universe which at times will be hard to live in, but you’ll never look away.
I have to admit, as much as I’m gushing over Silent Hill, it did seem a bit long. Folded into the story of Rose’s search for her daughter is the tale of Christopher Da Silva (Bean), who follows the trail left by his wife Rose straight into a very different Silent Hill. At times these moments overlap, but eventually we have to follow Christopher again, tearing you away from Rose and her battle with an ever-encroaching hell world. Granted, it is necessary to tell the story, but I’ll be curious to see how horror fans who know nothing of the games take to it. I will say that there are only two moments among all two hours of this film where the pacing slows down to give you backstory and plot. This story holds together and sticks very closely to its source material, referencing at least the first three video games of the same name.
Now there’s one thing horror fans have been buzzing about since day one. With an R rating, blood must follow. In this, Silent Hill does not disappoint. There are moments in this movie where you expect the usual cutaway from what will be an exceptionally sticky scene … and happily that doesn’t happen! The terrors of Silent Hill rip through its inhabitants with barely a pause in their steps. These are demons with an agenda christened with lots of the red stuff! By the time the movie climaxes, the sets are so red, any true horror fan will stand up and clap … most likely to the odd glances of the normal folk nearby, but don’t be shy! Give the director his due. I haven’t seen a body count like this since Kong, but alas, the big furry guy didn’t leave bloody monkey prints. Now THAT would have been a completely different film, eh?
Silent Hill is without a doubt the most faithful adaptation of a video game ever made while still being a damn fun ride. You are looking at 30% mystery and 70% pure horror. There is more blood, human remains, and in-your-face kills in this film than we’ve seen on the screen in a looooong time. So now, take note. Tell your friends. I fully expect you to get to the movies on opening weekend and make Silent Hill number 1!! You’ve been screaming for more blood on your horror plate. Now you’ve got it.