Tuesday I gave you a brief rundown of everything Silent Hill. The games, it goes without saying, should be experienced by anyone who has ever been a fan of the horror genre. On the other hand, there is also a film version out there, and we all know what usually happens when video games are adapted for the silver screen. The question is: does the Silent Hill movie succeed where Super Mario Bros. and Doom have failed? Or is it just one more flop to add to the constantly growing list of game-based films?
Written by Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Beowulf), directed by French filmmaker Christophe Gans (Necronomicon, Brotherhood of the Wolf), and starring a host of recognizable faces–Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Man on Fire), Sean Bean (GoldenEye, The Lord of the Rings), Laurie Holden (The Mist), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact), Jodelle Ferland (Tideland), and Deborah Kara Unger (The Game)–Silent Hill acquired a respectable amount of talent for its big screen transition. Both Avary and Gans have admitted to being fans of the series, and, as such, they wanted to create a film that would do the source material justice (although they based their adaptation on the original game, there were also elements of the later installments incorporated into the narrative).
The plot follows a couple, Chris (Bean) and Rose Da Silva (Mitchell), as they try to help their adopted daughter, Sharon (Ferland), who suffers from sleepwalking and vivid nightmares of Silent Hill. Knowing Chris would disapprove, Rose takes Sharon on a road trip to Silent Hill, hoping to get to the bottom of her daughter’s nightmares. Without giving too much away, Sharon goes missing, and what was once a “medicinal retreat” turns into a rescue mission as Rose searches desperately for her missing child, all the while avoiding the hellish monstrosities of the abandoned, foggy little town. Along the way, she meets Cybil Bennet (Holden), an officer from the neighboring town of Brahms, and a host of “survivors” who ride out the Hellworld transitions in a church. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Chris is doing everything he can to find his missing wife and daughter.
If I had to complain about only one thing in Silent Hill, it would be the acting. Although a lot of it is fine, there are a few lines that just feel clunky. Adding to that, some the delivery is over-the-top. While this can be bad in any movie, I feel I have to fault Silent Hill even more because these blemishes are often coming from the two characters we see the most: Rose and Cybil.
On the other hand, the look of the film is very Silent Hill; fog engulfs every street corner, buildings all look washed-out and vacant, and the transition to Hellworld–all rust and steel and decay–sent chills up my spine the first time I saw it. The effects are all pretty brilliant. Gans wanted to make a film that used CG to enhance, not overwhelm, and so his creations are physical whenever possible. The monsters they brought over from the games all looked beautiful (as odd as that sounds); the patient demons were disgusting, undulating masses; the nurses were faceless and vile and, yet, they still had a hint of sex-appeal; and Pyramid Head, although his look was slightly altered, floored me when he first walked onto the screen. Gans really has a striking visual style in this film; he even goes so far as to reproduce specific camera angles from the game–a detail that would be missed by anyone other than the fans.
As a huge fan of the series, one of the most exciting details was the announcement that Akira Yamaoka would be returning to do all of the music–although this actually meant music from the games would be used in the film (which was completely fine). The film, just like the games, had a combination of serene, melodious pieces, as well as ominous, industrial tracks; there are also enough groans and gurgles–and every other recognizable Silent Hill sound–to make the fans feel right at home.
After covering both the look and sound of the film, I feel this is a good place to stop and point out one of my favorite scenes. Before Rose and Sharon make it to Silent Hill, there is an aerial shot of the their car as it travels along a moonlit road, forested mountains lining their path–even by itself, it’s a beautiful, haunting image–and then it happens: Akira’s “Letter – From the Lost Days” begins playing and everything comes together so perfectly… I can’t quite describe it. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s a scene worth taking note of. Anyways, back on track.
As with all game-to-film adaptations, there were some changes made to the story; some characters were added, others were removed, and even more had their roles changed; Pyramid Head, an infamous creation of the Silent Hill universe, was inserted in to the film’s storyline–a choice that upset some as he was tied to James’s character in the second game; and certain, small plot devices were added, removed, or altered to fit the cinematic pacing. Overall, I think Avary and Gans did a fine job of compressing a 4-5 hour game into a 2 hour movie. One warning, though: you may need more than one viewing to get the full effect–this film gets pretty confusing towards the end.
All in all, Silent Hill is one of the better big screen adaptations. It still has its flaws, but they are far outweighed by the fact that, for once, it seems the filmmakers actually had some passion for the project they were working on. Now I’m just hoping that Gans is willing to return to Silent Hill sometime in the near future.