Videogames are an art unto themselves. Despite the increasing theatrical approach to making video games, they have yet to make a decent transition to the big screen. Something, whether it’s story, or character, or Uwe Boll, fails to make the leap to a non-interactive format work. Sadly, despite my hopes, Silent Hill makes the leap no better than any other attempt, although it tries darn hard.
The story, which is established within the first five minutes, follows Rose (Radha Mitchell) as she attempts to discover why her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) dreams of a mysterious town named Silent Hill. Her research takes her to the town, which was abandoned decades before Rose and Anna get there, but fires still burn from the town’s destruction, creating a creepy bright atmosphere of smoke, fog, and ash. That atmosphere changes every so often though, as the town descends into darkness and horrific creatures come out to terrorize Rose. Things get creepier when Rose’s husband Chris (Sean Bean) follows his wife and daughter there only to find a normal ghost town, nothing at all like the atmospheric environment that haunts Rose, who immediately get separated from her daughter and now has to find her, as well as the secret of Silent Hill that haunts her kid.
Atmosphere is one thing Silent Hill gets right for most of the picture. The bright hazy version of Silent Hill is daunting in its starkness, while the hellish dark version of the town offers things that would make Clive Barker smirk. The visuals get a little too computer generated in style sometimes, but, for the most part, the movie creates the right atmosphere ensuring that when those air horns sound, signifying the coming of darkness, the audience gets a little nervous about what will appear next. The only complaint I have as to environment is, in what I can only guess is an effort to maintain the truth of the name “Silent” Hill, the bright daytime is often devoid of background noise. In order to create that, the actors had to redub their lines. Sadly, this foley work was done very poorly, leaving the movie with a voiceover quality that is below the quality of most video game sound work.
Where the movie fails is in ever answering the question of “why.” Rose is not the type of character to ever ask that question, and since the movie follows her we miss out on understanding most of the events she encounters. She stumbles blindly along, making decisions at the drop of a hat and never considering either the consequences of those actions or what is going on around her. We are talking about a character who decides to take her nine year old daughter to a ghost town without even consulting her husband, after all. As a result, the audience is dragged along on a horrific version of Alice’s journey through Wonderland, without any reason as to why anything is going on. Towards the end, the movie is suddenly hit with a burst of solid exposition, but it’s really too little and far too late. My assumption is that director Christophe Gans and writer Roger Avary aimed the movie too much toward die-hard fans of the games who have more knowledge about the video game plots before entering the theater. If you’ve played the game, you might have more insight as to what’s going on but otherwise you can sit through two hours of movie and still not really be clear about the ambiguous nature of the story. By no means am I asking for every little detail to be spelled out (the “pyramid head” creature terrorizes quite well without any real explanation) but a more thorough explanation of the plot would have been nice. For that matter, Sean Bean’s storyline is pretty close to irrelevant, showing that the Silent Hill Rose is in is detached from the real world, and not much else. Movie time could have been cut down right there, making room for better explanations.
Sadly, no matter how visually impressive Silent Hill may be at times, the incredibly weak story and exposition makes it a horrible film for outsiders to the Silent Hill saga. I’m one of those moviegoers who wanted to like Silent Hill and thought the trailers held a lot of promise. Because this game isn’t one I’m familiar with (and isn’t about to be – the game is out of print and hard to find these days), I was excluded from enjoying the film. To me, that makes Silent Hill the movie worse then other video game adaptations. I may not have liked Bloodrayne, but at least I understood what was going on without having to have prior knowledge of the game.