Friday, October 1, 2010

Silent Hill

The adaptation of video games into movies does not usually go well.  In fact, it's almost always a guarantee for a bad movieSilent Hill is different from most of these adaptations; the series is not an action series, but a horror series, where characters are supposed to navigate a complex, disturbing world to discover a horrible crime at its center.  That certainly sounds like some of the key ingredients in a good spooky thriller, right?

Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) is the adopted daughter of Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Christopher (Sean Bean).  Sharon has been freaking her new parents out by sleepwalking and having extreme nightmares; she often shrieks the phrase "Silent Hill" in her sleep.  After deducing that Silent Hill is a town, Rose decides (against Christopher's strong and logical advice) to pack up Sharon and drive to the town that has been giving her nightmares.  I used to have nightmares about falling; do you think Rose would have taken me base jumping?  Sadly, the Parent of the Year nominee doesn't quite make it to her destination.  On the way, Rose sees a little girl in the road, which causes her to swerve off the road and crash the car.  When Rose awakes, she is in Silent Hill, although it bears little resemblance to the real world.  This is a misty place where ash is continuously drifting down from the overcast skies and there are few inhabitants to be seen.  At least, friendly ones.  Oh, and Sharon is now missing.  Now, to save Sharon, Rose has to uncover the horrible truth behind what has happened to Silent Hill.

If that doesn't sound like a fully developed plot, that's because it isn't.  Sure, there's another layer of weirdness added when Christopher arrives in Silent Hill, to find it an abandoned (but otherwise normal) town; he is able to uncover some hints as to the town's secret past, but he is unable to discover the truth for himself.  Ah, the quest for truth.  I guess, in its way, Silent Hill is an existentialist drama.  In another, more accurate way, it is a spooky movie where you're never quite sure what is going on. 

The acting is surprisingly decent for a movie of this ilk.  Radha Mitchell might only be able to play strung-out characters, but she does a fine job here.  Sean Bean isn't quite as convincing as the concerned husband and father, but his participation is pretty far removed from any action, so I'll cut him some slack.  Laurie Holden is surprisingly unattractive in her supporting role as a motorcycle cop; she plays the tough officer decently well, but the movie is too vague for her to make any definite character choices.  Alice Krige plays the leader of the Silent Hill townsfolk and she does a pretty solid job as the creepy den mother.  And Jodelle Ferland is a creepy child that I would advocate abandoning at a truck stop.  No offense to her, but take a look at her filmography...bad things happen to people around her.

Visually, this is a fantastic film.  Director Christophe Gans did a wonderful job giving the environment a character of its own.  The creatures of Silent Hill were imaginative and visually stunning, at least when they were visible.  I am a fan of visually imaginative filmmakers, and watching Silent Hill makes me want to check out some of Gans' other work (he also directed Brotherhood of the Wolf, starring the Chairman from Iron Chef America).  It's too bad that imagination was wasted on such a lame story.

Silent Hill does provide some unsettling moments and a few gasps, but little else.  It did provide me with one of the few times I have been visually interested in a film, but was still bored out of my skull.  A big part of the problem is the vague plot.  In a video game, it's okay to wander around, slowly uncovering obscure clues and, over the course of twenty or thirty hours, piecing together a rich story tapestry.  Remember how great Myst was?  In a two hour movie, though, that pace has to pick up considerably.  This movie largely consists of Radha Mitchell wandering around a hazy town and...sometimes...seeing something that might or might not be scary.  I appreciate the intent to stay true to the video game, but a more linear plot would have helped keep the story moving and coherent.  As it is, Silent Hill is a pretty mess.  BO.  RING.

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