REVIEW: Silent Hill (Cristophe Gans, 2006)

In 1999 a video game was released that would evolve the face of thrills for everyone holding a controller. This game would also inspire many to follow suit by creeping into the minds of its players with unforgiving, insane visuals and soundtracks rivaling the eeriness of Time's intro from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Though it intrigued me, I never actually played Silent Hill or any of its sequels due to the high price of gaming, but apparently it was a big hit. The film adaptation of the original installment follows Rose, mother of Sharon (whose name you'll hear screamed about ninety times,) a little girl with a sleepwalking problem. During Sharon's subconscious constitutionals she repeats the name of the titular town, so Rose gets the bright idea to take her there. The excursion turns into a nightmare when Sharon disappears and Rose is subjected to twisted scenery and throngs of unusual, demonic creatures. Christophe Gans, director of Le Pacte de Loups, helms the hot-ticket film starring Radha Mitchell, Jodelle Ferland, Sean Bean (in a painfully useless role), Laurie Holden (who looks like a younger Jane Lynch) and Henry Townshend (who looks like he desperately wants to be Christopher Meloni).

The imagery in Silent Hill is begging to have been conjured in the 1920's. German Expressionism akin to The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu and some ingenius shorts from the era would have done this film a huge number of favors. The creepy creatures of the darkness, especially Pyramid Head, would have been fantastic if transported back in time and mastered to life by someone like Robert Wiene. That's not to say they aren't cool as they are, because they most certainly are, it's that the modern feel of the film doesn't seem to do them as much justice as they deserve (though it gives a valiant and highly memorable effort).

The film's biggest issue lies in its script, which feels like it was proof-read by Gomer Pyle. We are immediately thrust into the main characters' family during an attempt at a tense moment which allows us no time to care for them. There is a brief development device used in the second scene between mother and daughter, but it only makes the one appearance and oozes with transparency. Even toward the end when the jumbled storyline is coming together and the true evil is rearing its head, another unwanted device arises to help the audience side against the revealed villain. Despite the fact that this device, set in a scene vaguely reminiscent of The Pit and the Pendulum, was executed very well, it would have worked better if the driving storyline was used in its place. Again, I'm unfamiliar with the source material and am unsure if what I'm referring to as a "device" was in fact a part of the original story, but when adaptations are done in this fashion, liberties must be taken.

Though the production seems misguided in many places, I can't help but show it respect for its great integrity. As several folks in my showing agreed with me to the extent of our knowledge, there has been no film like this before. Little girl with black hair aside, it doesn't conform to past horror successes and really develops its own style that hits more than it misses. Even when it misses it's still fun (zombie-things that think they're in West Side Story? Yes, please!) Some of this unique style might be attributed to its origins - some of the scenes seem like they could have easily been cinematics you get to watch after completing certain tasks in the game or reaching certain locations like Grand Hotel's room 111.

The TV-spots were really what made me want to see Silent Hill, which is strange because I usually despise TV-spots. Seeing the strange creatures really did it for me, and I got chills every time the words "I am the reaper" were exclaimed in that demonic voice (which was not in the actual film, much to my chagrin but much to the happiness of others who felt it was cheesy). I was secretly hoping for something the likes of the House on Haunted Hill remake from the master of freely psychotic cinema, William Malone. While I do like the original House quite a bit, Malone's take is a total blast of maniacal terror and easily one of my favorites in its genre. Silent Hill didn't perform to those standards but the payoffs were more than worth it. The finale is something that won't soon leave my mind - a must-see sequence for any horror buff.

I am certainly not disappointed. In fact Silent Hill has lingered quite nicely in the ol' noggin. If I were to recommend any course of action with it, I would say wait for DVD and enjoy it with some popcorn and a few friends.

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