Silent Hill (2006)
Video games will never be translated into a good movie. There, I said it. I caught some grief before by this opinion. Think about it. Unlike say comic books, video games are dependent on user interactivity, on game involvement, and not necessarily story or character. A video game requires an audience to be interactive, whereas movies require an audience to be passive, letting a story envelope around them and take them some place. Video games just aren’t structured in a way that lends itself to storytelling. Just look at some recent results: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Doom, Bloodrayne, Double Dragon (remember that movie?), Mortal Kombat 1 & 2, Street Fighter, etc. Granted three of those are Uwe Boll films, but what does it say when the best video game adaptation yet was Super Mario Brothers?
Now comes Silent Hill based on the very popular horror video game series. The screenplay is written by Roger Avary, who used to be Quentin Tarantino’s writing partner and wrote and directed one of my all-time guilty pleasures 2002’s Rules of Attraction. I guess I foolishly expected more, but with Silent Hill what I got was further fuel to my theory that no video game will make a good movie.
Rose (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) are very troubled about their adopted girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). She has the habit of sleepwalking and uttering “Silent Hill” repeatedly. So what’s a 21st century mother to do? Look up Silent Hill online, put her tyke in the car, and drive to the ghost town herself, much to the dismay of her husband left behind. It seems that Silent Hill was a town in West Virginia that had a horrible coal mining accident in the early 70s, killing many and condemning the town. We’re told the fires are still burning underground to this day. Along the way, a roadside motorcycle cop (Laurie Holden) gets suspicious of Rose and chases her. They crash their vehicles along the road and wake up to falling ash. Rose’s daughter is missing and she looks inside the nearby Silent Hill, a presumably deserted town. Then there are routine air sirens warning of an approaching darkness. The world changes form and nasty creatures come to life, like disjointed bodies, charcoal-skinned children, and malevolent evil spirits. It’s about here where I’d just say, “Oh well. I can adopt again.”
The movie is paced and structured like a video game, which means it’s just as tedious to sit through. The first two acts of Silent Hill center on Rose going from Point A to Point B, finding clue that leads her to a new point, and repeating this tiresome exercise. There?s a scene where there’s a giant hole in the floor and Rose has to navigate across scattered beams to get to the other side. It’s portrayed exactly like a video game level, as are most of her encounters. Worst of all, the movie follows a code of logic that dares to only exist in video games. Why does Rose instinctively know she needs to reach inside the mouth of a corpse to find a sign? How does she know a hidden room lay behind a portrait? Why does Rose know that light attracts the “Thriller” dance team/nurses with potato sacks on their heads? How come the evil presence that basically created this limbo world of the undead cannot penetrate a church? The plot is mostly incoherent and intentionally surreal, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the story is just plain awful.
Silent Hill completely collapses once the third act begins. It was plodding up until that point, but now the film becomes downright ridiculous and painful. We’re amongst a crazy group of fundamentalist witch burners that, for whatever reason, dress in hazmat suits to venture outside their grounds. It’s at this point that the surreal nature stops and we find the answer to our questions: another vengeful spirit from beyond the grave. Ho hum. The protracted climax goes overboard and practically rapes the stellar ending of Carrie. Also, Silent Hill expects its Big Reveal to be shocking or surprising, but it cannot be anything except redundant because the film spelled it out an hour ago.
The dialogue is howl-inducing. There’s a moment that Rose says, “Don’t worry honey, everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be alright.” And this immediately precedes the little girl watching the religious cult burn someone’s face off. There’s another moment, more than an hour in, where Rose says, “Something bad happened here.” You think? All of the dialogue can be fitted into two categories: either expository or instructional. It’s like to be true to a video game they also decided to lift the terrible dialogue as well. The plot meanders for the longest time, allowing Rose to visit place to place, and then Avary decides to bludgeon his audience with a 5-minute chunk of exposition meant to clarify everything up to that point.
The acting is pretty bad. Mitchell gives a valiant effort and has a nice scream, but she can’t escape the dead weight of the dialogue and total lack of characterization. Bean is entirely wasted and his “American” accent seems to waver quite a bit for such short screen time. Holden is more a fetish figure fantasy than a character, evidenced by her tight leather pants being the first thing we ever see of her. Still, it’s somewhat interesting seeing the romantic lead from 2001’s The Majestic kickin’ some unholy ass. It’s hard to say if any actors of any caliber could have redeemed the film, but this collection of thespians doesn’t even try to put a polish on the dialogue. You can tell because the howler lines are still howlers.
Lest I forget, this thing is OVER two hours long. There’s no reason Silent Hill should even be teetering over 100 minutes, especially for a film as sparsely plotted as this one, that is, before Avary’s exposition head rush. I don’t know why the filmmakers included the pointless subplot involving Christopher on the search for his wife. The subplot adds no deeper insight, affords no opportunity to help shape the plot, and only serves to whisk the audience out of the moment and remind them how pointless Silent Hill is quickly becoming. And is it ever pointless.
Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) has a great taste for visuals, Silent Hill‘s only positive marks. Some of the images in this movie are truly horrifying and have, reluctantly, stuck in my head days afterwards. The Pyramid Head man, with a 20-foot sword, makes little sense but is a jarring and memorable image. When those loud sirens sound there is a slight amount of dread, but really it’s more of a morbid curiosity at what kind of hellish transportation will happen next. The excellent production design and cinematography also contribute to the film’s eerie, striking, sometimes suffocating atmosphere. But, alas, an interesting visual palate cannot save a slow, dimwitted, inane movie. Otherwise What Dreams May Come may have worked. But it didn’t.
Silent Hill is pointless, plodding, incoherent, far too long and far too boring. The bad dialogue, acting, and plot don’t seem to help matters either. Gans creates a moody atmosphere with some powerfully nightmarish imagery, but that’s the only thing Silent Hill has going for it. Whether it be a man with a Pyramid for his head ripping the flesh off someone like a coat or a little demonic girl dancing in a literal blood shower, Silent Hill has its small potent visual moments. However, these small moments of visual potency cannot make up for the giant black hole of suck. This movie is simply dreadful and designed too faithfully as a video game adaptation, which means the same gaps in logic and pacing are present. I certainly expected better from Avary. I told my friend Dan that I was embarrassed we’d forever know we saw Silent Hill on its opening night, so much so that I bought him food after the show to make up for dragging him along. This is the first movie I’ve ever attended where I heard booing afterwards from my audience. I would have joined them but I was too busy getting out of the theater as soon as the end credits rolled.
Nate’s Grade: D