Once upon a time, a series of games came out for the Play Station 1 and 2 that totally changed the way people looked at horror videogames, inserting psychological analysis where most games would put cheap pop up scares. And while its quality has gone down in the years since its inception, it still remains a fan favorite. That’s right, Silent Hill.
But like all things loved by a large group of people, Hollywood looked upon it and said “OH! I CAN MAKE IT BETTER!” Now, this movie came out a while back, but only now that they have actually filmed a sequel do I feel compelled to dish out some judgment on this. This is Silent Hill: The Movie.
Silent Hill, released in 2006, follows Rose Da Silva, played by Radha Mitchell, whose adopted daughter Sharon begins having strange nightmares. Like any sane mother would do, Rose indulges these nightmares by driving to the town of Sharon’s birth, Silent Hill. However, on the way, Rose gets in a car accident and when she awakens, she finds Sharon is missing. Now, she is stuck in a mysterious town filled with monsters, religious nuts, and crushing despair, as she discovers the dark origins of her daughter.
If I spent the entire post pointing out the ways in which this film is not like the game, then we’d be here forever, so here’s a quick rundown. Obviously, Harry, the lead from the first game, got the shaft and was replaced by Rose. Apparently, the choice to make Harry’s part a female one was because the director felt in the game he acted more feminine and making the lead a woman would better preserve those characteristics, which I don’t believe. I think the producers thought a mother looking for her lost child, and a father looking for his family (Christopher Da Silva, played by Sean Bean) would be more empathetic than just a father looking for his daughter.
Dahlia Gillespie, played by Deborah Kara Unger, is changed from the villain to simply an unwitting member of the cult, who made a mistake by giving up her daughter Alessa to be sacrificed. I kind of like this choice concerning her character, because it adds tragedy to the darkness and maliciousness of the story, and amplifies the theme of motherhood. Known as essentially one of the main villains throughout the Silent Hill series, it’s nice to see her portrayed in a more sympathetic light in this alternate telling. The wardrobe change, however, leaves much to be desired. Were they going for hobo, or for a cast member of Cats?
The movie also added the second-parent perspective, which is ultimately part of its downfall. It used almost exclusively for exposition, following Christopher as he searches the town for his family, and except for maybe two scenes, it adds nothing to the plot, and slows down the pace of the film. They also changed Alessa’s story about birthing the God of the cult, as well as the revenge she takes on the cult later, though at this point, its just nitpicking. Otherwise, the story is strong enough to stand on it own, without having to reference back to the game.
I postulate, that if this movie had been released outside of the Silent Hill franchise, it would be much better regarded. Most people, including a critic I greatly admire named Dena Natali, hate this movie, citing it as unnecessary and an insult to the tradition of the games. And while I can agree on this, I do think that people are prone to comparing it to the first game, and that’s what ruins it for them. I watched this movie before I was really invested in the games, and while it wasn’t a perfect movie, I appreciated the effort put into it and the atmosphere was perfect. In fact, this movie got me interested in playing the games to begin with.
The other thing is that fans really can’t place the logic of the Silent Hill games into this movie. Just like Silent Hill 1 and 2 set up the origins and the traditions, this movie set up the mythos for the sequel to follow. Silent Hill has set monsters, so rather than those designed around the psyches of the characters, they tend to be the rage-fueled nightmare minions of Alessa. And while I am always opposed to Pyramid Head showing up in games that are not Silent Hill 2, in the movie, he’s so badass, I don’t even care. He rips off a lady’s skin with one hand, and then throws it at a church! That’s pretty gruesome, awesome imagery.
The special effects for this movie are gorgeous. The transformation into the Other World is well done, and so graphic you feel the walls bleeding. I love the locals, the school, the hotel, and the hospital are all well designed, and are very creepy. As you all know by now, I am a sucker for good cinematography – I just love movies that look good. I can gripe and groan about the other aspects, but this movie just looks amazing, and that’s why I love it so.
On the acting side of things, it’s okay at best. Mitchell is pretty good at portraying despair, but can sometimes look and act a bit wooden, as does Laurie Holden who plays the cop Cybil. Sean Bean is unnecessary as can be, and while he doesn’t ham it up too badly, his performance isn’t noteworthy. Alice Krige as cult leader Christabella was probably the best casting choice; she’s homely in a sense but fierce and steadfast, and probably played her role the strongest.
I think a special mention should go to Jodelle Ferland, who plays Sharon/Alessa/Demon Alessa.Child actors and actress are notoriously bad, and I was expecting her to be the movie’s downfall, but I was happily surprised at her skills. She emoted really well for a child actress and was pretty creepy as the dark half of Alessa’s soul. Though, for the love of all that is horror, why does everyone in this movie have to look destitute?
In the end, Silent Hill may not be in any way a great film, but it does hold a very special place in my heart for getting my interested in the games, and really has some great imagery and story telling. If you’ve never played the games, or can suspense your disbelief long enough to get through it, definitely check it out, if just to see the Other World scenes.
Stay tuned for next week, when I review 1408.