Review: “Silent Hill”

The road of ‘video game to movie adaptations’ is a long and dirty trail plagued with disasters at every turn. From the so stupid its high camp (“Tomb Raider”) to the dull (“Doom”) to the incomprehensibly awful (“Double Dragon”), the best the genre has ever produced is the occasional mediocre action vehicle like the first “Mortal Kombat” and “Resident Evil”.

Now comes along “Silent Hill” which is a whole different kind of bad, but in a decent way. Make no mistake, the end product is a convoluted nightmare – a silly setup leads to a stupid premise that takes forever to play out, and by the third act becomes an impenetrable mass of exposition and weird for weirdness sake. Yet the film is faithful to its source material, visually is quite imaginative at times, and I have to admit up front – its the first horror film in a long while that actually creeped me out a little with its disturbing imagery.

With French helmer Christophe Gans directing, a man who memorably used computer animation to morph Monica Bellucci’s breasts into snow-capped mountains in “Les Pact Des Loupes”, the whole project utilises visually striking shots and sequences to try and overcome gaps in both plot and logic – never successfully doing so.

To give Gans some credit, he understands the impact of the visual medium and draws inspiration from a number of sources ranging from HP Lovecraft to the works of Italian cult director Dario Argento, fusing that twisted and in some parts quite horrific style with more conventional genre elements of a single-child family in peril and a small town controlled by theocratic fear.

If you’re looking for credibility, forget it – the film rushes into its premise with no background or explanation beyond only the most basic for its characters. Much of the film is simply Radha Mitchell, a decent little Aussie actress struggling with not much to do beyond scream for her daughter, wandering around the creepy run down town and encountering its very strange inhabitants. These wackos range from a single mother turned hobbo with a Pat Benatar hairdo, to a sexy blond cop who shoots first and wears leather pants in a way that makes Kate Beckinsale’s “Underworld” jumpsuit jealous.

That wouldn’t be so bad, if the film were a lot shorter. At just over two hours, it feels decidedly on the long side by a good thirty minutes. Worse it does a bad job at cramming its reveals in too quickly with the first half unfolding at a relatively relaxed snail’s pace, before suddenly rushing through far too much exposition which only hard core fans of the game will probably get into.

Also in the early stages, the general confusion about what’s going on plays out like an interesting mystery, but the solutions are just thrown in there with little care for their impact, whilst the central cause of all the shenanigans turns out to be a macguffin seen far too much in supernatural movies these days – a pissed off little girl.

Not much else about the production measures up unfortunately. Performances range from the ordinary (Mitchell), to the dull (Unger, Bean) to the fun but silly (Holden). Bean’s subplot could’ve been excised altogether with practically no relevance to the plot, whilst the religious fanatic story has been done many a time before even if Alice Krige does the best work of the actors involved, giving her group leader a believable dignity which can switch into spiteful fire in a split second. Production values are alright, the constant ash fall with moments of descending darkness is a great visual trick but other CG manifestations aren’t so convincing. There’s also your standard ‘ambiguous ending’ that seems almost passe these day.

Whilst not as atrocious as some other films that have opened this year, the truly woeful story and quality of ‘Silent’ is saved only by its occasion moments of visual flair, and its all over effective creepy atmosphere. Trying to explain it seems like trying to explain a David Lynch film although those movies have far greater understanding of character, editing and pacing. A strange little overgrown cul-de-sac on the road of game adaptations. Only for those bravest of drivers who knows these roads well, and even then you’re likely to get lost looking at the pretty scenery.