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Silent Hill
Reviewed by Andrew Kozma and Laura Eldred, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Christopher Gans
Genre:   Video Game Translation
Released:   April 21, 2006
Review Date:   April 27, 2006
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Andrew: Okay, stop what you're doing, 'cause I'm about to ruin the image and the style that you're used to.

Laura: 'Drew looks funny, but yo he's making money, see? Or, um . . . Yeah. Andrew: Double yeah. Um . . . Hello there! Laura here's gonna fill you in on a little number we like to call: Silent Hill.

Laura: Now gather round. Rose's daughter Sharon (creepy but pretty Jodelle Ferland) is a sleepwalker, and her nighttime perambulations are becoming dangerous. After Sharon's latest stroll almost leads her off a steep cliff, Rose (pretty uncreepy Radha Mitchell) decides to get to the bottom of her problem by taking her to Silent Hill, a ghost town in West Virginia whose name the young girl tends to scream out during her sleepwalking escapades.

The trip, however, doesn't end up as planned; Rose and Sharon get in a car accident on their way to Silent Hill, and soon discover themselves trapped in a surreal, industrial nightmare as the demons of what once happened in Silent Hill prepare for their revenge. Rose and Sharon end up with some buddies in this caper: local policewoman Cybil (pretty, uncreepy, mostly kickassy Laurie Holden), resident crazy-cat-lady Dahlia (creepily unpretty Deborah Kara Unger), and some miscellaneous religious nutjobs hiding out in Silent Hill's church. When Sharon disappears, Rose and Cybil must unravel Silent Hill's history in order to save the young girl. But who the bad guys are, and how to defeat them, are questions not easily answered.

Andrew: Silent Hill had my eye and ear for a good while. Director (and co-writer) Christopher Gans oversaturates the scenes outside of Silent Hill, the town, flooding them with color, making reality seem magical. Of course it is the nightmare town of Silent Hill that is magical, or at least supernatural, but that landscape is portrayed only muted, shades of gray every so often burned through with bright points of fiery red, echoing the coal fire that ghosted the town and still burns underground.

The people inhabiting Silent Hill are ghosts, as well (which implies that Rose, Cybil, and Sharon are, too, when translated there bodily from the real world). Most people wouldn't consider the everyday world magical, something to be desired, but then most people aren't stuck in some Bizarro version of it, either.

Laura: Yes, my favorite part of this film was the images. And I think most of why I liked the images -- and was disturbed by them -- is that there's an aesthetic behind them. If they're hideous -- and they are -- there's a certain economy of symbolism and gore in their composition; they're not overdone. Instead, they are, for the most part, images you could almost imagine coming out of a horrible fire -- terrible disfigurement, but not beyond the realm of the possible.

Blackened, childlike figures; figures without faces, without arms, stumbling on in some parody of walking. And then there're guys like Big-Man-With-Knife-and-Pyramid-Head, who looks like some archetypal nightmare King, with his immense stature, his huge sword (which looks something like a ten foot kitchen knife, but that's okay, it's still big and sharp), his veiny blue skin, and his face that's been replaced instead with this large metal pyramid-shaped mask. I'm not sure how much of this was fully realized in the game, but it's some twisted, disturbing stuff.

And that's not to mention that the Pyramid guy at one point grabs a victim's chest flesh in one hand, and rips all of the person's skin off her (well, I guess all the people in the film are really female, so saying "her" doesn't give anything away) body in one fell rip. No band aid is going to cover that puppy!

Andrew: Ah, but all of the people in the film aren't female, which somewhat begins my gripefest. Not that I have a preference for all-female films (and maybe I do) but I felt, while watching the movie, that it seemed as though the movie should only contain women, and how much more interesting it would be if that were the case. Lo and behold I find on the internet (that bastion of truth and upstanding values) that the original script only contained female characters, but that the studio said Gans had to add some men.

So Sean Bean's character Christopher, Rose's husband, was added (and maybe his entire arc? The section of the film that takes place outside the world of Silent Hill contains a disproportionate number of men). His role is entirely superfluous, as is the switching back and forth from the nightmare of Silent Hill to the real world.

And I guess I was spoiled by Brotherhood of the Wolf, which Gans directed and also had a hand in writing. The humor and style of that movie were so amazing, while Silent Hill is distinctive. I mean, in terms of horror films, or films in general, if the best that can be said about how it distinguishes itself from the pack is that it is distinctive, what gives? That's like saying, "It's different."

And, gah, this is the last thing I'm going to say, and then I'm through sniping, I mean snarking, I mean griping. Snark, snark. The movie contains plot events that are gratuitous, uncalled for by character, and purely there to set up a later plot point. These moves are where the movie lost my respect.

[HERE THERE BE SPOILERS]

EXAMPLE 1: Cybil takes on four guys wielding large pipes only using a nightstick so that Rose can enter an elevator, and she soundly beats the fark out of them. Without even breathing hard. She decides NOT to enter the elevator with Rose. And, then she pulls her gun on the group, after Rose is safe, to allow time for the elevator to start its descent. She pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty (since she's smiling, she knows this), and then lets herself get beaten to death instead of continuing to kick ass. Eh?

EXAMPLE 2: Cybil returns -- after being repeatedly struck with gigantic metal pipes, around the chest and head -- conscious, though bloody, only to be gruesomely killed.

EXAMPLE 3: What's with the ending? Not that I expect coherent answers, but I do expect Rose to realize the difference between Silent Hill and, well, everywhere else. And, by the way, the end would work even better if Sean Bean's character wasn't there. Though even better than lame is still pretty (creepily) lame.

Laura: Yes, the film has plenty of failings. It's far from perfect. There are holes. The acting is perfunctory. And all those things stop this film from being great. I still think though, that as horror films go, it's pretty good.

This is mainly because it managed to disturb me.

I'd like to point out that as a long-time horror fan, I'm extremely difficult to scare.

Andrew: Did you see The Grudge?

Laura: Didn't you say you were going to stop speaking?

Andrew: Snark, snark.

Laura: Well, I saw the version with Sarah Michelle Gellar in it. I don't think that counts. But the last film that scared me? Films can do many things to me -- make me laugh (Evil Dead II), make me cry (Titanic, that manipulative piece of crap), make me want to play Su Doku (Path of Evil), and even make me look at the trees in my yard with budding suspicion (the not-yet-produced classic of horror comedy Arbor Day) -- but scare me, that's near impossible. This film did not scare me, but it did disturb me, which is the next best thing.

As to how it managed to disturb me, I've been thinking about it. I don't find just plain images of death disturbing, or even of living death. A zombie shuffling along, parts falling off, goo dripping from its empty eye sockets -- I'm likely to analyze the image, to consider whether its doing anything a million zombie films haven't done before, and if it is doing something new, to appreciate it on a sort of artistic level as an achievement. And if I do appreciate the film on this level, the way I'm likely to respond is with laughter -- I find nothing funnier than a film that decapitates someone in a new and interesting way.

If the film falls flat on the creativity meter, I'm likely to turn my nose up at the visual effects' inadequacies and to consider the film a waste of fake blood. I appreciate creativity in horror -- but even highly creative effects are highly unlikely to produce anything like fear. There're a couple films -- films that I wouldn't necessarily recommend on any basis other than their visual ingenuity -- that have managed to disturb me.

Andrew: And how did they do that, pray tell?

Laura: Well, though I'm almost ashamed to admit it, one common thread is shaky-vision ™. I.e. A ghost or maniac is moving towards you, but its movements are jerky -- not really too fast, but like your brain isn't processing all the small movements between position A and position B. I imagine that filmmakers do this by removing some of the frames; it doesn't sound so impressive in description, but its effect, to me, is impressive.

Films like the recent House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts did this, and so did that J. Lo classic The Cell. Not otherwise terribly great films, but once you add in shaky-vision, for me, you get the inevitability of a zombie combined with the mystery and the malevolence of some Powerful Force Beyond Man. Very Thomas Hardy.

Anyway, this may be a lot to get out of a way of some jerky movement. . .

Andrew: May be?

Laura: Jerk. But that's the effect it has on me. This film has some shaky-vision with the Evil Nurses, a bunch of hot, dead women in killer heels who unfortunately have had their faces burned off. These women offer both shaky-vision and that bluish-green veiny skin that you get in some zombie films -- that skin color is often reserved for dead people who are still somehow hot (I think maybe because we sometimes associate being superpale, even a little bluish, with being "blue-blooded" and upper class), and that's the case here too. Anyway, end of diatribe. For now.

One thing I was curious about, Andrew, is how the film compares with the video game. I've never played Silent Hill -- or any survival horror video game. The film made me wonder though if I may be missing out on a whole new dimension of time-wastage.

Andrew: Silent Hill is the perfect video game movie. It's not so much a reimagination of the game as it is a pretty faithful representation of what it is like to play a survival horror game. Unlike the Doom movie which fitfully attempted to recreate (I really like those re words today. No, ally) a first-person shooter feel (though the scene was badly done, it was still the most engrossing section of the movie), the creative team behind Silent Hill captures the immersiveness that makes even watching someone else play Silent Hill a terrifying experience (though the first Resident Evil game remains the masterpiece).

Largely that's because in survival horror games you are controlling your character from a third-person perspective. In survival horror games the camera angles that allow you access to the world are determined by the game. In survival horror games you don't create your character, but are controlling one that has a history in living world. So far this sounds more than superficially similar to a movie. This video game/movie correlation also allows for some otherwise unexplainable events such as the sudden deus ex machinas that continually pull Rose from danger. Ah, if only God was here.

Laura: Yes, that was annoying. But the film, as a sort of conceptual artistic vision, I think is quite successful. It also succeeds in creating a consistently mysterious, ominous mood: most of the music is based on beat-driven industrial sounds, which never lets the viewer forget the passage of precious time, and the movement toward some terrible catastrophe. This music is interspersed with periods of silence, in which footfalls echo impossibly loudly, and you know that the bad guy in the hall is going to hear you! The lighting throughout is filtered and grey, and altogether the film's world emerges as a hellish, industrialized inferno constantly coated in the ashes of the dead.

Andrew: And that climax: certainly industrial. To the max, man. When the darker side of the town arrives (heralded by an air raid siren -- one of the most chilling effects) the world turns all abandoned factory. The climax of the movie is grand guignol all the way. Though, strangely, none of the violence seems gratuitous, though it clearly is, I suppose because everything is inexorably demanded by the plot. Just like Oedipus Rex.

Laura: As a gorehound, I really loved it. Without giving too much away, those who most deserve a solid whoopin' get what's coming to 'em, and they get it good, in an orgy of gratuitous, vicious violence that should have any fan of Hellraiser quite pleased. (There's something in the deployment of inanimate objects made malevolently animate to me that seemed Hellraiser-ish -- not to mention the audience's pleasure in the torture of those who deserve it, which is present in most horror films, but seems more explicit here).

There's even a scene of rape-with-barbed-wire that I've added to my list of memorable horror rape scenes alongside Evil Dead's rape-by-evil-tree. Not to mention people being cut in half, or just exploding in a shower of blood thanks to appropriately placed barbed wire, in scenes that seem, to me, reminiscent of Cube. As you can see, the barbed wire put in overtime on this film.

And where's the barbed wire's credit!??? Soon, the barbed wire will unionize, and then you'll see -- you'll see!

Andrew: But until then, watch this movie. Dawg.

Laura: Peace out.

Laura's Rating: 7/10
Andrew's Rating: 7/10

RevSF Assistant Film Editor Andrew Kozma and RevSF contributor Laura Eldred are skinny, but that never stopped them from gettin busy.

 
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