This particular review was written by my best friend. I've interjected a few comments of my own (in orange) as I too saw this film and...well I give her credit for putting so much effort into this. For me, the film wasn't even SO BAD as to warrant my time. Oh Sean Bean, how you sadden me....
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I’m a gamer. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’ll even admit the fact that I’m somewhat of a casual gamer (an insult among gaming circles), not one of these hardcore fanboys (or, girl as the case is) who waits in line for months for the newest gaming platform. But, I enjoy a good game nontheless.
Silent Hill was a very good game.
However, it was a very BAD movie.
Though released in April of 2006 I just saw this movie the other night. I’d heard frightening things about it. Disturbing things from other fans of the horror genre, and I’d put off watching it. I shouldn’t have bothered putting it off. I shouldn’t have bothered WATCHING it to tell you the truth.
Directed by Christophe Gans and written by Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), I was most certainly expecting something…more. But apparently, even Avary has days where he drains a few too many tequilas, giggles maniacally at a typewriter, then wakes the next morning to a semi-truck of a hangover going ‘oh my heck, what on EARTH have I done?’. This movie is proof of that.
I must interrupt to point out that Avary did not WRITE Pulp Fiction OR Reservoir Dogs. He is credited with helping to conceive the STORIES of Pulp Fiction and writing the RADIO DIALOG that is featured in Reservoir Dogs. That's it. He's not some secret mastermind behind Tarantino's chair whispering him lines. Less misleading credits would be 1994's Killing Zoe, with Eric Stoltz, and 2002's Rules of Attraction with that Dawson's Creek kid...In all honesty, seeing his name attached (as a co-writer with Neil Gaiman) to the upcoming release of Beowolf curdles my blood, as i was rather looking forward to it and now I'm terrified to see what he's done to a literary classic after seeing how he handled a pop-gore video game movie.
I’m very aware that movies based on video games most often do not work, for numerous reasons. Plots on video games tend to be first person…they include you as an active participant in the storyline so there is a level of immersion not available while simply watching a story. People don’t really expect computer animated beings in a video game to act and make us believe them as much as they expect it of their actor and actress counterparts on the screen. And, if one hasn’t played the video game in question, the movie version tends to feel incomplete and confusing, as most writers and directors seem to bank on the audience at least having a fundamental understanding of what’s going on before the movie even starts.
Such a phenomenon has brought us disasters such as Doom (and Bloodrayne, and Mortal Combat, and Super Mario Bros.) and lukewarm films such as Tomb Raider (and Final Fantasy, which served as more of a novelty than an actual film since most people are hard pressed to recall the plot but quick to remember Donald Sutherland's liver spots). However even knowing this, I was optimistic for Silent Hill. It had the potential to be great. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its potential.
Even for someone who played the game (such as myself) the movie was confusing at best, and the continued actions of the main character that left at least me wondering what the heck she smoked in the 70s did little to salvage it. I found myself utterly unable to sympathize with the heroine and let’s face it…if you can’t sympathize with the protagonist in the story, then what’s the point? (Sheer mockery worked for me...)
The movie opens with Rose (Radha Mitchell) frantically searching for her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) who it seems has wandered off in the middle of the night. This also, it seems, is not the first time this has happened. Little Sharon has a habit of sleepwalking. Frantically, and in one of the only moments of feeling I actually GOT from the character, Rose searches for her daughter who she finds on a clifftop about to fling herself off. Rose saves her just in time, and Sharon writhes on the ground a bit, locked in her nightmare and screaming about a place called Silent Hill.
So of course Rose and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean...oh Sean....*sigh*) take her to all the best psychiatrists to find out why their daughter is suffering from horrific nightmares and dangerous sleepwalking.
No, I’m sorry…that would have made sense. Instead, Rose decides the best way to treat her daughter’s psychological trauma is to take her to this town of her nightmares, Silent Hill. Makes you wonder how she’d treat a bout of the flu. Anyway, this is a real town, abandoned for thirty years due to a coal fire burning beneath it that is releasing toxic gases into the air.
Sounds like a perfect place to bring your child. (Sounds like New Jersey, but was amusingly based on a town in my homestate of Pennsylvania. Go figure.)
Christopher is against this (the Dad is the smartest one and hot) but Rose takes Sharon anyway, packing her in the car and driving off to find this town. Along the way, they stop at a gas station where Sharon discovers her happy crayon drawings have all been altered into nightmarish figures. As she cries about this to her mother, spouting “Mommy? Mommy, who did this??” she draws the attention of motorcycle cop Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden, best remembered as Marita Covarrubias on X-Files...unless you actually REMEMBER the Father Dowling Mysteries).
With her young daughter (who acts about five or six but we later discover is actually nine years old) frightened and confused, Rose does the understandably maternal thing and leaves her alone in the car in the dark in a strange place and goes inside the gas station market. Naturally. That’s what I would do. She cracked the window!
If I were some sort of psychotic weirdo. (...ahem...?)
While Rose is in the market asking directions to Silent Hill (because Googling directions to the place before leaving would have made sense and she’s not allowed to do that) Cybil the cop approaches the car and starts speaking with Sharon, who spurns her with a quick, “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers” and swiftly shuts herself up in the car. Here, we get a glimpse into Cybil’s kind nature as she responds with an affectionate smile and a ‘good girl’.
Cybil glances around the car. Rose notices. Rose returns to the car and they continue on their way.
Shortly before they reach the turn off for Silent Hill, the cop pulls her over. At first there seems to be no reason for it…but later it is explained that a wacko once kidnapped a boy and took him to Silent Hill to drop him down a mine shaft. Cybil, our cop, was the one who found the boy and stayed with him until rescue came. So, I accept this as a flimsy reason the cop is suspicious of a woman and a girl bearing no physical resemblance to her heading toward Silent Hill, but even so, there was nothing stopping Cybil from confronting Rose at the gas station. Instead she chooses to wait and pulls her off the road. But, as I’m in a generous mood, let’s just assume the cop wanted to be sure first that this lady was heading to Silent Hill and not, say, Disney Land.
At any rate, Rose pulls over but upon seeing a sign indicating Silent Hill, decides that instead of staying and seeing what the cop wants, reassuring her or even downright lying to her, she decides the best course of action is to take off. Apparently Cybil can’t believe she’d do this either, given the way her jaw drops.
But then, Rose is already a nominee for Mother of the Year, why not indulge in a little high speed chase on dark, slick, unpredictable mountain roads with your child in the car and a policewoman in hot pursuit? (Uh...YEAH...I so would.)
Makes sense to me.
And so, long story short, there’s a ghostly figure in the road and Rose wrecks. She doesn’t hit anything that we can see, yet feels the need to smash her face against the steering wheel and go unconscious.
Upon waking, she discovers she’s alone in the car, stopped in the road at the edge of a town wreathed in mist and constantly falling grey ash…symbolic, I suppose, of the burning coal fire under the city. (And a really friggin cool effect that is DIRT Cheap to do.) She sets off into the town to search for the now missing Sharon, giving the impression not of a frantic, terrified mother searching for her child but rather someone seeking out a possession that has simply been misplaced. This attitude is revealed later with the almost jealous way she snatches her locket back from Daliah (Deborah Kara Unger...She was in The Salton Sea--you must see it.), a grey haired hag-lady who mistakes the image of Sharon for her own child.
Very shortly into Rose’s search she discovers the town is not nearly what it seems to be, as she’s attacked by the Smoke Children, who look like sculptures of babies made out of burning cigarette ash. Inexplicably the Children vanish and her first reaction is not to promptly find a weapon, a phone, or ‘get the hell out of Dodge’ but to figuratively shrug her shoulders and go wandering about, drawing attention to herself by yelling for her daughter.
Eventually we learn that Cybil, the cop, is also in Silent Hill. She has fouled her bike and as a result, is in an equally foul mood. Rose has returned to her car, discovering an angrily drawn demonic picture labeled with a ‘school’…and by that, determines that her daughter must be there. (Naturally...the whole movie is like watching a friend play a quest game - "Oh look! A key! Pick it up, maybe you'll need it!") Cybil finds her, confronts her, and arrests her, determined to march this crazy lady back down the road by foot if she must. Instead, they find the road is simply gone, and we have our first…and only…encounter with the Lying Men.
Now, I liked Cybil. She was the only character which, in my mind, made anything watchable about this movie (You forgot Sean...Oh, Sean...*sigh*). But even I had to gape in startlement when, seeing a deformed, armless, faceless creature with a big acid-spitting hole in its chest, her first reaction is to tell it to halt as if it was a looter scooting out of a Best Buy with a stolen VCR. I’m sorry, but if I saw one of those things walking toward me, my reactions would be three-fold. Scream, shoot, and wet myself. Not necessarily in any order and most likely simultaneously. Instead, Cybil orders it repeatedly to halt, and waits for it to get into spitting range before opening fire. As a result, she gets acid spit on her and ends up having to shed her helmet, glasses, and nice leather jacket. Oddly enough, none of this acid got on her face…apparently, the Lying Man is a picky shot. (Cybil's blonde...blondes don't get fucked up in these movies, only brunettes. Pay attention Becky!)
Rose of course takes full advantage of this confrontation to run. Yeah, you read that right. Run. Away from her only ally. Away from the person holding a gun. WITH her hands handcuffed. Oh, and Cybil’s got the keys to those, too.
I was chanting at her to die at this point. The character was just becoming painful. (Well, she DID hit her head....)
So Rose wanders around town for the next ten or twenty minutes with her hands cuffed, seeking out inexplicable clues to where Sharon might have gone. On a side note, doesn’t it seem odd that a small coal mining town has a huge elementary school, a multi-level hotel, and a six floor hospital? Hmm…
Rose tries the school where she discovers a huge ring of various sized keys. Rose stays in character by trying the keys on a variety of drawers, lockers, and doorways instead of, oh, I don’t know, finding one small enough to undo her cuffs. She also finds a flash light that, despite having sat in a otherworldly limbo for thirty odd years, still has working batteries. Go Duracel!
Rose is now chasing a childlike figure that keeps darting around corners and up stairways. She thinks this is her daughter. I think she should be wondering why Sharon would continuously run away from her. I mean, a child in a scary place like that…wouldn’t they run TOWARD their parents? Then again…if Rose was my mother I’d probably run from her too. Amen.
Each time she chases this child, Rose ends up in some mess with gross things happening. So naturally, when the child runs into a restroom Rose’s natural inclination is to peek in stalls.
Does no one but me think this is a bad idea? The room is a dead end. The kid has to come out sometime. Why open yourself up to a faceful of raw sewage or a dirty pipe monster?
No raw sewage monster. Instead, she discovers a grotesquely bent body tied up with barbed wire and eviscerated. (So fucking sweet people...you gotta see it. This guy does backbends my Yogi can't do). She then decides to turn off her only light and put down her only weapon (given all that’s happened, she oddly doesn’t seem concerned with arming herself, not even with a stick or bludgeon of some kind) and go poking around in the corpse’s mouth. There she finds a bit of wood from a nearby hotel. Of course, this must mean that Sharon went to the hotel, rather than the fact that this guy must have choked to death after indulging in a weird fetish having to do with barbed-wire bondage and pica. (Pica is an abnormal appetite for earth and other non-foods...yeah, I had to look it up. Bite me.)
Eventually we learn some things. Firstly, that whenever the town’s warning siren sounds, the walls peel, metal rots, and icky things start happening. Rose runs away from these, gapes at them, or watches them in almost dispassionate, detached interest. She does eventually arm herself almost idly with a butter knife she later uses to attack…a painting. Because there has to be a door back there. Duh.
Cybil finds her and shows the only real true human reaction to what’s happening by freaking out and screaming ‘what the fuck is going on’ in a way that made me want to cheer. Finally, some ACTING. Cybil then oddly decides to protect Rose and help her out, rather than…oh, I don’t know, bludgeoning her unconscious while screaming ‘what the hell possessed you to drag me here you stupid bint??’
They find a girl named Anna who apparently lives in the town along with a group of cultists. This strikes neither Cybil nor Rose as odd, because deserted, poisonous towns always have occupants.
Some exposition is given, Rose arms herself, the siren goes off and they all run toward the only place that would not be touched by evil…the church. Even though the darkness is coming and the town is falling and rotting away behind them, Rose decides the church steps are a good place to hold a conversation. And oddly enough, Cybil doesn’t scream ‘f-you’ and run inside herself, but indulges this conversation. I liked Cybil, but at this point I’d have knocked them both on their butts in my haste to get inside.
Sadly, Rose did not die, but Anna does at the hands of Pyramid Head. Who, by the way, is a major villain in the games but in the movie only makes two cameo appearances that do nothing for his character. It’s like watching a version of the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe where the White Witch just wanders on screen a moment, waves, and leaves again, never to be seen more. He deserves his own fucking movie. He has the potential for creepiness that the Pale man of Pan's Labyrinth epitomized.
There’s another attempt at exposition. I’m distracted at this point watching Christabella (Alice Krige) and yelling ‘resistance is futile, you shall be assimilated!’ Her acting was impeccable as always, but then, she always did well at megalomaniac cultist leaders. (She was in Barfly, written by Charles Bukowski...kick ass movie with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway-a goddess)
They go to the hospital to confront the beast. On the way, Cybil tells Rose that Sharon is ‘lucky to have a mother like you’. Yeah, the way the Germanic Jews were ‘lucky’ to have Hitler. It’s small wonder to me now why Sharon was trying to pitch herself off a cliff in the beginning of the movie. You would too if you were stuck under Rose’s care.
At the hospital there is a confrontation. Cybil shoves Rose into the elevator after killing one of the cultists and tells her to find her daughter. Even though there is plenty of time to enter the elevator with her, she doesn’t do this for some strange reason. For an even stranger reason, as soon as the elevator departs, Cybil puts down her weapons and seems to submit herself to what we used to call ‘a major ass-kicking’ by the cultists. I’m thinking at this point she’d rather just die than continue to be in the movie. ( 'OO-RAH Sistah!)
After running a gauntlet of blind nurses that seem unable to walk yet are meant to be terrifying (they can’t see you or chase you! Ooh, spooky - yet oh so buxom and sleazy) Rose finds the truth of the goings on. At least, I think it’s the truth. A young girl was terribly treated and eventually torn from her mother and burned alive for being ‘a sin’, the cop helping the father to try and locate his nutso wife and daughter is shown rescuing her though oddly enough, he hasn’t aged at all in thirty years, and this all comes down to the fact that this kid is really uber-pissed and wants revenge, and Sharon is all the ‘good’ that had been left in her, abandoned on an orphanage doorstep. Apparently, since Sharon is only nine (and acts three) and since Alessa was burned thirty years ago, it took her twenty-one years to spew out the good. But, whatever. I’ve learned not to ask.
We then have a prolonged climax in which the cultists burned the only character even somewhat worth anything alive (Cybil, I was mad), plan on burning Sharon alive, and instead get their come-uppance when burned chick enters and tears them all apart.
Ok, no...you cannot skim over this part. Spoilers be damned. We are talking giant tentacles of barbed wire that lash out and rip people into pieces, or impale them and leave them hanging in mangly meaty bits from the cathedral ceilings of the church. And then- like a live action, sadist's version of The Brave Little Toaster, Dark Alessa rises up from the bowels of the church- IN HER BED -barbed wire tentacles waving frantically to impale Christabella - not through the torso or head....through the GROIN...VERTICALLY. Seriously the entire movie is a waste of time except watching that three minute cinematic perversion. It isn't Bruce Campbell spewing worms and entrails in her face but...its up there.
Now, while all this pointless running around on Rose’s part is going on, her husband and a town cop are searching the ‘real’ Silent Hill trying to find his wife and daughter. Their car and Cybil’s motorcycle have been discovered abandoned but there is no sign of them. It is through Officer Thomas Gucci’s (Kim Coates) exposition that we learn of Cybil and the boy that was dropped down the mine shaft. After Christopher breaks into an orphanage and hall of records, Gucci displays his burned hands. We learned these were caused when he carried the horribly burned but still living Alessa to the ambulance, despite the fact he looks not a single hour older than he did then, despite the fact thirty years have gone by. Ah, if only I could age so well. I’d still look two years old.
After the death of Christabella and her cult, Rose and Sharon are allowed to leave Silent Hill, but not before Rose first gets to toss off the line ‘To a child, Mother is God’ to Daliah, as an explanation as to why Alessa didn’t kill her as well (and a complete rip off of The Crow). The words themselves as well as her attitude when saying them once more suggest that she views Sharon not as a mother should view a child, but as a possession, something that belongs to her, and worships her utterly as a pet might worship an owner. Never do you feel a true mother-child bond between the two of them…at least, I did not. When Sharon is in immediate danger of being burned alive Rose’s vehemence is almost identical to that a person would show when someone is threatening to kick in the corner panel of their new car, or pitch a rock through their plate glass living room window.
And so Rose and Sharon leave town, driving all the way home but still encased in the thick mist of Silent Hill. Her husband is there but does not see her, nor does she see him. Asleep, he catches a whiff of her perfume and rushes to the front door to see if she has come back…and thus ends the movie, leaving the audience with the feeling that they’ve been lightly beaten with the WTF bat.
I started this movie with the anticipation that it would at least be interesting and left with only the feeling that I was glad Rose wasn’t my mother, and how on earth could I get my money back, even though the movie was free.
Silent Hill should have remained silent.