Yes, after nearly two weeks since my original post, here it is–the review I promised. Boy, I don’t even want to begin with all the things I’ve been busy with since then, so just know that: I’ve been busy.
The set up for this one, an adaption of the wonderful games by Konami, is as follows: a mother, Rose, travels to the town of Silent Hill–once a resort town, now abandoned due to underground mine fires that have lasted for the previous 30 years (this, I’ve found out from some searching, is based on a real town in Pennslyvania called Centralia)–with her sick daughter Sharon to discover why she repeatedly lapses into dreamlike states, muttering the name of the town before awakening; meanwhile, her husband searches for her. The film was directed by Christope Gans, creator of Brotherhood of the Wolf, and written by Roger Avarey, Oscar award winning scripter of Pulp Fiction so it’s easy to tell that this film was made with quality in mind instead of how much money they could make off of raping a property.
This movie seems to have been getting a lot of flack from mainstream critics–from Roger Ebert to the Times UK publication–but both as a movie for the fans of the game and for non-fans looking for a good horror movie, this one delivers.
Honestly, I can’t understand what most people are complaining about in their reviews, as most of them speak of the film not explaining what is going on or skipping out on “important questions”, such as why Rose goes to the town of Silent Hill in the first place (the entire first ten minutes of the film explains this, actually; it’s the purpose of the opening scene) or why director Christope Gans ignores the Rose’s parenting (he doesn’t; again, the entire opening segments of the movie establish that her husband doesn’t trust her, going so far as to cancel her credit cards, and calling to make sure she and their daughter are safe every second). Another complaint was that it’s “too confusing!” (that boils down Ebert’s entire negative review into the cliched nutshell) despite the fact that it unfolds straighter than a heterosexual in terms of time–no random Will Faulkner jumps here, though there are a few snippets which are visions of the town in what looks to be the 1950s, shot or flashed so that appears grainy and old, as well as being narrated over by a character–and contains an interaction between characters near the end of the film that explains some of the mysteries around Sharon and Silent Hill.
It certainly doesn’t use the same now-stereotypes of video game movies, as all the following are absent: Matrix-style moves, a scene where the characters load up with weapons, butchering of the game’s plot and/or characters, nu metal or techno music blazing out of the speakers for every fight scene, and poor actors in it for the pay job. Instead of Paul W.S. Anderson (director of such classics as Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and Aliens vs. Predator) or Uwe Boll (director of timeless pieces such as Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, House of the Dead, the upcoming In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, and writer of upcoming “uber-horror film” Death Row), we have a team who know their stuff and don’t their audiences.
Now that that’s out of the way, I cannot say enough how amazing the visuals and camera work in the film is: the shots, as Roger Ebert notes in his review, are done in a level that approaches a high grade art film, and the special effects do not consume the film–Gans used real actors to portray the monsters, using dancers to give them a very ranged and odd movement, and only used CGI to add effects to them. And besides that, the added effects to their costumes, such as glowing embers embedded in the bodies of children, are done well as to be unnoticable; likewise, the “otherworld” that Silent Hill morphs into, cued by World War II era air raid sirens sounding throughout the town, is done without flaw as mirrors rust over and walls peel off to reveal metal grating underneath with the sound of flesh tearing off of a body.
The only true weaknesses of this film would be two things: 1.) Gans doesn’t expand as much on the antagonists as much as I’d hope (for anyone who hasn’t played the games, what exactly they are will seem hazy beyond them being simple demons), and 2.) the extras are poor actors and ruin a tense scene near the middle of the film.
To sum my review up: go see this film, it’s best appreciated on a theater screen! If you miss it in the cinema, though, be sure to pick it up when it comes out on DVD.
III. Extended Thoughts
Watching Silent Hill, you can see a halfway point forming between video game movies and them being good: this one, as well as the recent Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, actually pleases the fans! Make no mistake, non-gamers who’ve seen Resident Evil and Doom and all the other little abortions, none of the gamers except the demented enjoyed those films. Yet now, with Silent Hill gamers actually have a single video game movie that at least they can like. Other than the gamers, though, horror fans angry at Hollywood’s recent turn of either an Asian horror remake starring a 20-something blond woman (The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water), a remake of a classic film that has no need to be remade in the first place (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, the 6/6/06 release of The Omen, Psycho), or a torture-snuff film (Hostel, Wolf Creek, Chaos, next week’s See No Evil) can also appreciate Silent Hill. A few non-horror fans might–and, according to user reviews on the Internet Movie Database and Something Awful, do–enjoy Silent Hill.
In a way, other than the blend of traditional special effects and modern CGI contained in it, Silent Hill is a revolutionary film that marks a new period of video game adaptions. It finally sets the bar somewhere. We’ll have to wait another year or two to see if the movie versions of Halo–which will be produced by Peter Jackson, the first in-house script for a video game movie, complete rights of control remaining in the hands of developers, and a reported budget of $100 million–and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell–nothing much known on this one, but I believe Clancy himself might write the script–can continue on the path set by this movie. In many ways, its similair to the comic book movies produced over the last decades: despite an occasional Superman I and II, there’s always a Punisher or a Punisher remake to put a bump in the road. Lately comic book films as a whole have improved, with good movies such as X-Men and “X-2,” and Spiderman 1 and 2, as well as great movies such as V for Vendetta, Sin City, and perhaps 2007’s The 300. Perhaps this is because the properties are being given actual budgets, and given to people with some talent; the producers and budgeteers of Hollywood should learn that the same applies to video game movies, and indeed any film, in the future.
Not to mention that the comic book films I listed above as good have earned much more money than the bad ones.*
*Except V for Vendetta, sadly, the only comic book film not to have much in terms of fights or violence. I recommend renting or buying that one, too, both for fans and for anyone who wants to see how modern comics are as opposed to the cheesy pulps of the 60s and 70s.