Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Reviews: SILENT HILL (2006)

Cinematic adaptations of videogames have a bad reputation. Mainly because they turn out to be idiotic manifestations of studio greed and the willingness to capitalize on fanbase fervor. “Resident Evil”, “Max Payne”, “Tomb Raider”, “Street Fighter”, “Doom”, “Wing Commander” and many more were released in the attempt to cash in on the game industry. Uwe Boll spewed out several such movies which are basically the cinematic equivalent of pouring gasoline and throwing a lit match at the dreams of gamers everywhere who were hoping for a decent cinematic adaptation. Some of these movies, however, make a lot of money, so there's no real hope of improvement anytime soon. And yet, once in a while there's a movie like “Silent Hill”, based on a series of survival horror games created by the japanese studio Konami. Sure, it's no masterpiece, but you can feel that the director had genuine respect for the source material and, surprisingly, he doesn't botch the job.

The plot keeps close to the canon of ghost stories and fans of the game will be pleased to find lots and lots of references to their beloved franchise. Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) are the adoptive parents of a nine year old girl, Shannon (Jodelle Ferland). The girl suffers from sleepwalking episodes which endanger her life and keeps mentioning the name of a mysterious town by the name of Silent Hill. Concerned about the child, Rose takes her on a road trip to visit the town, without telling her husband, hoping to unlock the mystery. Unfortunately, they are involved in an accident and Rose is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, the girl is gone and they appear to be trapped inside an alternate reality, a grim mirror of the real Silent Hill, a ghost town where ashes constantly fall down from the sky and from time to time everything is covered in darkness and transformed into a hellish version of reality where demonic creatures roam free looking to gut the surviving inhabitants of this realm. Oh yeah, it's a merry little town.

Old-school horror fans may be disappointed by the heavy use of CGI, but the surreal landscape of Silent Hill requires it and for what it's worth it's all very well done. The visual design creates the desired impact, particularly in the scenes where the town switches from foggy daylight to evil night. The creature and make-up effects are credited to Patrick Tatopoulos, who has done some great work in the past, designing creepy creatures for movies like “Pitch Black”, “Stargate”, “Independence Day” and “Godzilla”. In his hands, the population of Silent Hill has an appropriately threatening look.

So we've established that the movie is a dazzler in terms of visual effects. What about the acting, or the plot ? Well, the acting is decent. Not much room for three-dimensional characters, but the cast, which also includes Laurie Holden (“The Walking Dead”), Deborah Kara Unger (“The Game”) and Alice Krige (“Solomon Kane”), pushes through with enough conviction to make the characters functional as plot devices. Now, the plot is so-so. It's pretty standard fare, built around the mother-fighting-for-her-daughter theme and evolving as a mystery thriller along the way. However, too much of it feels built only around the gimmick of the constant duality between good and evil that exists in Silent Hill. Of course, it's a good opportunity to test out some cool visuals, but not entirely engrossing, particularly in the last 40 minutes or so, when the movie turns to prolonged scenes of dialogue to explain what's going on, which breaks up the movie's pacing. And for that matter, the movie's a bit too long.

And last, but not least, gore fans shouldn't be worried as there's plenty of it. Some might also want to check their stomach at the door, because the final act contains some truly disturbing violence. This is a horror after all, and one that relies heavily on nightmarish visuals. It's no torture-porn, but it comes very close to it in its final moments.

Overall, the movie does its job well. Fans of the games should be satisfied, horror fans will find enough reasons to stick around and it might even attract some of the uninitiated through its nifty supernatural mystery. Also, there's a sequel on the way, called “Silent Hill: Revelation”, which will be shot in 3D.

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