Silent Hill is not your usual horror film. There are no promiscuous teens in peril. There is no lone psychopath that needs to be stopped by said promiscuous teens in the final scene. There is no supernatural/scientific/alien explanation other than bloody revenge and damning the souls of your enemies to a life of everlasting torment and pain. There is no happy ending. Speaking of which, there will be mild spoilers throughout this review so be forewarned.
As a fan of horror movies, I think it’s very well done. Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) does a great job setting up the world the movie will be taking place in without getting bogged down in usual horror movie fare. Rose (Radha Mitchell) decides she and her adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) must take a trip to Silent Hill after months (years?) of strange behavior culminating in Sharon almost plummeting to her death while sleepwalking.
That’s the opening scene. No long explanations about the family; no personal interest stories; no “look how normal things are … BOO!” It doesn’t take long for them to get to the titular ghost town and you’re given just enough information to understand that people don’t go there and aren’t very helpful to people who are trying to get there.
Visually, the movie version of Silent Hill is quite faithful to the games it takes its inspiration from. After a car accident on the access road to the town, Sharon disappears and Rose goes looking for her. The constant cloud of smoke from the underground coal fires lends the right amount of eeriness to each scene. There’s something inherently creepy about low visibility when you know there’s evil things lurking just out of sight. When a strange air raid horn sounds and the evil things come out to play the decrepit and deserted town transforms into a pit of flaming death, making it seems a character unto itself.
It’s round about there where the movie gets unsettling. Warped baby corpses burning from the inside out, fleshy walking sacks that spurt acidic blood, twisted bodies wrapped with barbed wire dragging themselves around and of course Pyramid Head with his giant rusty butcher knife and his army of fist-sized roaches with almost-human faces. Everything is sapped of color except the oozing bloody walls. Pale gray demons wait around every corner.
It was during these scenes where the movie did justice to the license. There are a lot of nods to fans of the franchise and all of them fit perfectly into the movie as well. One scene requires Rose to pull a note from the mouth of a hanging corpse in a bloody bathroom stall behind a net of barbed wire. I could almost see the dialogue box saying “There appears to be a map in the mouth of that corpse. Reach into corpse? Yes …. No.” In the game you sit there and think “I don’t know … that’s kind of creepy and I’ll probably need both of my hands for the later levels,” but you know you’re going to do it anyway.
Another scene involves Rose needing to memorize a cryptic building map which could mean life or death in the event of a wrong turn. Multiple times in the games I’ve turned down the wrong path and met my gruesome demise. Speaking of which, the death scenes in the movie are quite gory. Flesh torn from bodies, people being eaten by swarms of bugs, and the most horrific burning alive scene I think I’ve ever seen. One review I read said if you took the most gruesome four minutes of this movie and edited them together you’d have the single greatest GWAR video ever. I agree.
Where the movie faltered was in the last half hour or so. For some reason, the writers felt the need to walk the audience through the explanation three times. The first time involves the leader of the fanatic survivors explaining to her followers why things have happened and why they have to live in this evil place. They attempted to burn a child they believed to be a witch but their lovely bowl of cleansing fire tipped over and set the town ablaze, killing almost everyone in the process. Evil was released and they believe the apocalypse has destroyed the rest of the world sparing the only the church they live in.
We know from the investigation of Rose’s husband Chris (Sean Bean) that there’s more going on than we think. He and the town’s sheriff find the crashed car minus the two women and go looking for them in Silent Hill. We find out there was a horrible accident that the locals are trying to cover up and that Sharon is somehow connected to the girl who was burned as a witch forty years ago. The real world version of the town looks nothing like the one Rose is trying to escape from. On more than one occasion we see Chris and his wife occupying the same location and not seeing each other and the audience makes the realization that Rose and Sharon aren’t in the land of the living anymore.
But wait! We need to go over that again. So we get a fifteen minute long version of the same story from the little girl’s perspective, nice and grainy looking as proper evil flashbacks should be, narrated by Sharon’s creepy alter ego. Surprise, surprise … Sharon is the daughter of the witch girl she looks exactly like. All of this exposition brings the movie to a screeching halt. Everything was going great up until the writers tried to flex their muscles. Thankfully they redeem themselves in the final scene with a totally bitchin’ barbed wire octopus monster that destroys the fanatics and their sanctuary.
Overall, the movie is unique enough to be worthwhile, especially if you like the games. While it’s not a perfect adaptation, it’s as close as I think a director can get without ripping the cut scenes from the games themselves. Taken strictly as a horror movie I think it’s fantastic. Creepy as hell, a ton of atmosphere, great creature design and enough gore to satisfy most horror buffs. There are way too many reworked Japanese ghost stories and psycho killer movies if you ask me. When you look at the current crop of movies they try to pawn off as being edgy and unique do you see any burning baby corpses? Didn’t think so.