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Silent Hill

Silent Hill
Rating: ***

Director: Christophe Gans
Radha Mitchell ... Rose Da Silva
Sean Bean ... Christopher Da Silva
Laurie Holden ... Cybil Bennett
Deborah Kara Unger ... Dahlia Gillespie
Kim Coates Officer ... Thomas Gucci
Alice Krige ... Christabella
Jodelle Ferland ... Sharon/Alessa

Synopsis: Rose takes her 9 year old daughter Sharon to a mountainside ghost town that seems to be haunting and drawing the young girl via dark dreams. Hoping to find answers, Rose wakes up after a car crash on the edge of Silent Hill with her daughter nowhere in sight. As she searches for Sharon, Rose meets stray characters who both help and hinder, looking for clues and realizing she may have made a mistake in pursuing her daughter's demons. Along the way, she loses all contact with the outside world and gets swallowed up in a demented saga of personal faith and dark redemption in the quest to free them both from the grip of Silent Hill.

The Nutshell

As I said in summary in the movie's own thread elsewhere on the board, this movie swerved dramatically in the details and some key elements of the plot of the game. It suffers a lot because of that, but squeaks by into "worth watching" status because it remains:

generally good at telling a unique story, with actors who do well enough, with cgi that captures some truly original and gruesome imagery, and at least a basic respect of the game's soundtrack and setting (Silent Hill, the game and film's main character, is perfectly and lovingly rendered).

The conflicting public synopses (IMDB Synopsis | Yahoo Synopsis), the well-established game story, and what this movie actually ends up being about show a troubled story development for what could have been something far better.

The Review

Come on in ...

Some haven't seen or played the games, and could care less. However, being deemed an adaptation, and being entirely derived from this source, and making such a point to capture some key elements, I am badly disappointed by how they deliberately - because when it's written out for you in advance and you change it, it can't be anything but deliberate - dropped the ball for other key elements.

Overall, this is worth watching if you're prepared for horror wrapped in suspense - this is not a "jump and scream" sort of horror, this is more of a "slowly clench up, stop breathing, and widen your eyes" sort of horror when it's actually doing its job correctly. It includes some truly graphic, mind-bending, "oh my god it makes no sense why is it happening," "how do I cope," awful images. And in that, and rendering the town of Silent Hill perfectly, the film captures the basic foundation for a satisfying horror film.

The reason the game has done so well is that survival horror makes the player FEEL as though they are truly in the game, surviving the horror (and all that entails). Like "Resident Evil," Silent Hill is a game that forces you to be as confused as a real person would be when suddenly thrust into a trying, nonsensical situation in which no one gives you answers, people are cryptic and self-serving, you have practically no weapons or knowledge of your surroundings, and you are an every day human being. This is how life would really be if you were stuck in the situation, and the game makes you FIGHT to get out of it alive - like a real person would have to do.

This is absolutely prime ground for creating a true and powerful horror film. Because the story, from genesis, is built as a powerful story. It's not a narration, it's an EXPERIENCE. And what is a film, but an experience that makes you suspend disbelief and instead believe you are IN the film, or seeing the story through the eyes of the main characters? You become those characters.

You do a lot of running in the game ... and in the movie.

The film teetered on the edge for a good while of this chance to plunge the viewer into this so they could truly feel it, versus watch it, and chose to do the latter by the middle.

Then, the film veered pretty heavily from some key story elements - changing the reason certain characters existed, and therefore changing why they were there. Doing that changes the mood of things, and sometimes it's not a big deal, and some times they lost a chance to make the movie more powerful.

If you want to look at the story as it is unchanged, we can do that, and notice that there's a good amount of basic movie logic. This is things like "so and so got this done to them, so naturally they went and did this." A little too plodding and rote for a storyline rich with unique details.

Then there's some "walking the watcher through." They basically baby the watcher, stopping to even have a "here's your reward - the truth" segment, with flashback scenes. I'm sorry, but any movie that does that ... is just losing major points. What if they'd stopped in the middle of "Memento" to do that? The purpose of Silent Hill is to make you figure it out for yourself, as it makes our heroine figure things out. Why on earth are you going to stop and just tell her everything, including the viewer, in the middle?

Then there's the extraneous parent - a father in the outside world trying desperately to reach his wife and child. He struggles trying to find out more, finds out nothing much at all, and by the end you realize what he was used for was not a good thing at all, and he didn't even need to be in the movie.

But the movie did have the town live and breathe as it was supposed to - a town that has a mind of its own, and it's a dark and evil mind. It does focus on the small-town "incestous" aspect of stagnation - where too many minds trapped together can think up something evil and perpetuate it because the outside world rarely interferes. It includes the murderous religious fanatacism that adds an element of the sickness and dementia of the town, which is true to the game. It also shows how the town is both absent and darkly warped, creating monsters that roam disembodied through the streets. Were they previous citizens? Are they only ideas? Why do they exist, and why do they attack?

Do you want to see what's behind this? And why does that nurse have such wicked highlights?

There are a lot of "why's" - this is the core of a horror movie - like in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," our terrorized group slowly begins to learn the why of their demise. It begins with madness and only as a few key characters skulk around and fight for their lives do they get answers, and it may not be in time.

The movie does so-so with those whys - mainly falling short in that it babied way too much and really limited details. Those whys are what add meaning to what's happening - a person murdered in a symbolic way is murdered for a reason. You can leave clues for the viewer and the heroine to see (and figure out on their own) or you can tell them. The movie chooses to actually tell us, which is sad. Showing would have been so much better.

But, it's good at capturing the manipulation and deceipt of characters, and the sometimes creepy crypticality. Dahlia Gillespie (a mysterious crone who proves to be a major character later) says some things and they don't make sense at first, but do later - they did a good job with her, except that she was way too beautiful for the state she was supposed to be in.

This used to be such a nice room ...

The leader of the religious fanatics (Christabella) is a strong character (remember her from Aeon Flux?) but receives way too much power in the movie, and way too much screen time. I'm not saying it's not possible for one woman to drive a congregation to the point she has, I'm just saying it was a little much and sometimes just hard to believe that she could actively keep that level of control on that many people for that long without any dissenters - at all. Silent Hill is a place for the rabid and hungry - black souls twisted into whatever place their tortured minds have taken them.

Christabella is serene, cool, and calm, which doesn't fit. Her congregration is like a pack of mules or donkeys, stubborn and drawn to fits of violence but generally easy for her to control. How did she remain that way and how did they become that, and nothing else? Shouldn't she be foaming at the mouth and bloodthirsty? Shouldn't Silent Hill have killed most of them off and left the rest of them slightly off in the head and some of them entirely broken? These guys are acting like they go out and do a little work every day and come back with no harm done, sleep easy in the church, and start all over again. This makes no sense, most of all, in Silent Hill. These guys should be more obliterated than they are to keep true to the darkness of the city.

Also, the foundations of their religion and what make them "believe" and the reasoning behind the evil things they've done - you might find that mess hard to swallow. We're supposed to, because they're just "crazy" but i mean, even crazy has to make sense sometimes. if a man had a chemical imbalance and was psychotic and killed his family, ok. that makes sense. but if he was just raised to be really christian and had no chemical imbalance but had a problem with premarital sex, would he burn his daughter for it? would he cut off some limbs? i don't think so. then again maybe the film was trying to wake us up to the injustices done under "religion" in modern society. but that's not what this film is for or about, and it shouldn't have been done, if that's the case.

Don't answer the door ...

And the ending, I'm afraid, will probably piss a lot of people off. I think they were going for bittersweet and meaningful, but after all they put you through, and some of the iffy things they pull, it was not justified. It was rather unfair, actually.

Below, I get into hard core overall details for those that care about the original story/loved the game. Spoilers ...

Ok, so the game versus the movie, let's get into it ...

I could have been fine with just using a female parent, but having both and one floundering on the outside was utterly useless. I know why they did it, and they thought it would help to break up the horror and the wandering around confused in The Land of Evil. They also probably thought that people would wonder "Doesn't the disappeared person have anyone looking for them?" But the very point of SH is that you disappear, and the viewer never knows whether you had anybody else or not.

The viewer never knows whether you had friends, another love interest, a parent still alive. It doesn't matter. You're in SH now, and they can't help you. You don't know what's going on, and that's all you've got. It's up to you figure sh|t out, you don't have a fuzzy light on in your chest telling you someone's at home waiting for you. And you do not have a cell phone that works, or at least lets you dial anything to give a sign to anyone in the outside world that anything is going on. Or hey, let them make a call, just don't show us the person on the other end who may or may not be receiving it. The point is, THERE IS NO OUTSIDE WORLD. This is it. You're in Silent Hill. There ain't no outside world.

There was no reason on earth to even include SHOWING someone trying to help. They were also trying to use Gucci to add to that "this evil is known outside and has touched others but it's buried because of fear and shame" detail, but they could have cut that out and accomplished it with having Rose find some damned newspaper clippings like in the game, or discuss it with Cybil. Waste of time.

The ending is just ... unbelievably wrong. I'd rather have him DIE than what happens to Rose. Showing both parents separated like that was ... well it literally undercut the movie itself. Why show us a mother struggling so badly to save her daughter, work to get them both out alive, and then have them end up potentially dead, at least in the real world? WTF? Do NOT show me the dude who couldn't even help and has no idea what happened. Or are you implying the hubby is going to go looking for them one day? Better be, cuz that was f*cked up.

I hate this. A typical horror movie has noooo problem with having a random person who was helping you sometimes end up dying for no good reason other than the world was too d@mned hard on you all and that person just had rotten luck. They got rolled, and it's just the way life, and SH is. Either that, or the person makes it out, or you assume they did. But having her sacrificed like that and tied in to their silly puritanical Christian fundamentalist whatever plot pissed me off. If anything should kill her, SH should kill her, not crazy wackos that shouldn't even be in the movie in the first place.

Ok, this is actually what pissed me off the most. Everything else I can let roll off, but this plot point, after it was soooo thoroughly beefed up in the games, they had to go and twist around into some modern recognizable thing. and i get they were trying to capture the "old american town" history, but the history of the game did just that and better.

A 500 year old blood demon who is worshipped by bloodthirsty, crazed Native Americans and later worshipped by invading settled Americans in an underground cult that occasionally turns to dementia, mass murder, sometime slaughter, etc., in attempts to appease the demon god and birth him into the world through a chosen female (who will become the "Mother of God") - COME ON. That is SO much richer, and explains so much about why human beings would go mad. A strict church with some people who think they can burn out the impurities in a girl who is a witch _just because her mother is single_??? Why would that happen in 1970? Seriously. Why? Burning witches is fine, but the witches generally show some dementia, some awful powers, etc. And wouldn't the witch be the _unwed mother_ not the _poor unfathered child_?

If you have a demon following cult with their minds warped by a blood demon's lust for suffering and madness, seeking to bring him into the world, and their human frailty can't stand up to it, all the crazy things they do will make sense. If they have the girl as a birth mother to the demon (a la Rosemary's baby) isn't that far more compelling than she's "a witch" and they're going to burn her and that's what her mother has to allow? I'm sorry but in the movie's scenario, even if the mother shares the beliefs of the group, she'd have run off with her child before giving it to be burnt. She'd know the punishment didn't equal the crime, if any. But wouldn't a mother warped by a demon easily feel, hey birthing a god isn't so bad, she'll still be alive?

Notice the synopses everywhere talk about "walking into alternate dimensions." The movie explains it as the will of the girl. Which technically the game dances around, the will of evil transforming physical reality, but what happened to the nuance that it could all be in your head? That what you might be seeing could be someplace your mind created, and the horrors happening to you are happening because YOU made them? That the nurse with the pipe after you in the hospital can't be seen by anybody else, but she can most certainly beat you to do death and tear your throat out? And that while you're running from nurses no one else can see, the other people whose paths you've crossed are running from their own demons? That was a mindf*ck you could think about for hours - how real is it? Is it ALL in your mind, or is only SOME of it in your mind?

The movie kinda messes with it, but doesn't really go there. You get saved by Cybil, who sees what you see. Not that in the game it's not like you don't sometimes have someone to protect other people from things, but anyway, the only bid might be the end where we realize perhaps Rose is still in hell and just doesn't know it. She thinks she got out, but Sharon is really Alessa and who knows what Alessa will do next ... but that's still not a happy resolution which was DESERVED after the struggle mang.

Pyramidhead came in way too early and I wasn't happy with him wandering around in the upper floors of the hospital. What the heck he's a major boss AND he's tied to the Executioner storyline of being used in mass sacrifices and evil experimentations at the insane asylum of Silent Hill (which was used by the Mad Demon worshippers, see, for their awful shenanigans - taking helpless patients and doing sick things to them, sacrificing them, etc.) He was an old character for the town with a deep backstory and blip you just get him sliding around upstairs for a little bit. Come ON! Wouldn't have it been awesome to have Rose come across some old articles about strange judges/juries and executions underground in the town with some sketches and then run into the real thing in the basement?

The Nurses were way to f*ckin sexy. As soon as they started I thought they were going to do Thriller. That middle one in front had major cleavage (they all did) and was doing moves like she was trying to do the Paris runway. COME ON! If they'd just had them moving more like broken, attacked women still bent on killing others ... with their proper clothes on ... and their real sneakers on ... some pervert in movie production basically wanted to get his fetish fed so he put curves and boobs and white pumps on them and tore their tops open and this is what we got. SAD WASTE OF POTENTIAL FEAR.

Also, that whole gangup in the hall, suddenly discovering 20 of them there? Stupid. Overkill. I guess they just wanted to show them and have her get away from them, then get back to the movie. I think it'd have been better to be true to the game - have her run into 4, and having found a gun along the way, killed 2 and got away with a few cuts and a limp. Find a first aid kit, patch it up, run off to do some more gumshoeing, meet another nurse, slip right by her, etc.

The Mannequins were all right. They should have had flailing upper limbs instead of unformed heads but I feel like they were merging this with another monster I can't remember at the moment. Or maybe that was the other monster. Anyway, the mannequins were supposed to be Executioner experiments, all the crazy demon worshipers gone astray and doing sick things to bodies, because everything is mindless and hungry, everything is after death and disregards suffering. Everything is slow, methodical, mindless, like a meat grinder. Just there, and just on. Only it moves, and looks really freaky. These Mannequins could have been scarier but got the job done.

Bugs were perfect. Not much you could do to mess em up I guess.

The childmonsters were odd. Over the years I can't remember what they were supposed to model these from. But I guess they did the job. Also, too many of them. Same issue as the nurses. Unnatural to have her get ganged up on to that level by that many. Overkill.

This, along with the true plot line, is another major flaw that could have gotten them more points. The game has richer story lines and fewer side characters. Get rid of that whole church congregation and the wandering girl who leads them to the church. Get rid of the detective and his buddies. Get rid of the husband. Get rid of Christabella.

Keep the nurse. Give her back her richer storyline. Even though she's female and that won't pull on our female protagonist's heartstrings as much as it did our male protagonist's, wouldn't it have been better to see her frightened and suffering and then going off to find answers and then showing up a little twitchy and crazy, and Rose could wonder if she was going to turn on her? You see how rich a character she was in the game, that it feels like a LOSS they demoted her to someone with no personality who just gets victimized by Alessa?

Have the heroine bump into one or two random people who frighten her, seem a little off, but don't last in the film. Just enough contact to make her realize she's not entirely alone, but might as well be.

LASTLY ... SILENT HILL. They were pretty much perfect on this. Only failing was that a large factor of Silent Hill is the Evil is nonsensical - everything is symbolism but the symbolism is all tangled up and you have to try and make sense of it to get out of it alive. The point is you are in Mental Hell. Mental Hell is a place that makes no sense, it's a world like your dreams. Thus, you turn a corner that you know didn't exist a minute ago, and now there's a tunnel with a blood coated fan and right behind you is a Pyramidhead. Or, you went through a hole in the wall and suddenly came out in an entirely different part of town with a twitching, bloody body in a bag two feet from you, and the person you had with you for backup disappeared.

They tried to make Silent Hill make too much sense. That ties into the plot - a lot of the atmosphere, drama, suspense, and horror, comes from not knowing what's going on and trying to make your own answers. They made too many things black and white, and linear. Take the sirens. Suddenly they're tied to the church which announces when darkness is coming. Everyone in town runs to the church, and this is how they survive. This is too orderly for SH! You can't have day/night come at regularl intervals! You're supposed to fall asleep and wake up and things are warped. You're supposed to go down some stairs in a normal wing of a building and come out into the bowels of dementia. You're supposed to sometimes wake up into madness, and sometimes wake up into no-one's-here but stuff's not bleeding normalcy.

Here, Dahlia gave birth to a daughter, the daughter got raped and burnt alive, and in her rage became a split personality with powers and sent her good self in physical form to an orphanage while her original real self festered underground. This all makes too much sense. In the game people are victims and never get retribution, people run out of luck or never had any, people are nice and turn evil, people are evil and won't change their minds and stay evil and don't get slaughtered in groups as if they might have been not so bad after all.

That was a key element. Once Rose started finding stuff out, everything just felt safe. She's only got nutty mad fanatics to deal with, not monsters hunting her while she faces the Demon God's Mother. Augh.

... i guess i'm done. clearly, i was disappointed. but, it's worth seeing. i was literally grinning and cooing at the cgi action sequences. i was rolling my eyes at the church scenes. *shrug*