By David Mayne
Directed By: Christoph Gans
Starring: Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland, Deborah Kara Unger
Ever had an Irish car bomb? Take a can (or bottle) of Guinness, drop in a shot of Bailey’s Irish Creme (the whole damn shot glass), and chug away. BAM! Now, times that foolish procedure by about 5 or 7 times, then set the clock back to a chilly night in 1999. The kitchen of my old apartment had been, for all intents and purposes, converted into a video gaming headquarters, complete with giant sofa, beer and pizza fridge, and a Sega Dreamcast/Sony PlayStation hub. So back to the ‘car bombs. The night had been all planned out, for the most part, and it started innocently enough with a friendly match of NFL2K, the Dreamcast in fine form and showing off its technical prowess as digital incantations of the San Francisco 49ers battled the Oakland Raiders on Candlestick’s muddy gridiron. Earlier in the day, before the stout had begun to flow like the salmon of Capistrano, I had picked up a copy of Konami’s survival horror entry, Silent Hill, in the hopes of spending the weekend huddled up in my makeshift room at the time. This was a two bedroom apartment, and both bedrooms were taken. My solution: a huge canvas tarp, 5 ceiling J-hooks, and a little creativity. After successfully converting the living room into my private safari tent, the remaining apartment space was basically the kitchen and entry hall, which became the Game Alter. If any of you knew me back then and had come by the place, you’ll surely remember #1, the imposing canvas tarp and Dave-Lair beyond and #2, the video game and beer nook! Hey, we were all guys, and one girl, and it was the 90’s! This is how things rolled back then.
So here it was, a soon-to-be wild Friday night, alcohol and NFL2k in full swing, roommates and a few friends gathering around the couch area. Not sure what sparked it, but at some point I suggested we eighty-six the football game, fire up the ‘ol PlayStation, and see just what this “Silent Hill” thing was all about.
Ever see one of those movies where someone walks into a bar, one they’ve never been to before, and upon entering: the entire place goes quiet, the jukebox stops, and some ornery cuss says something like, “You just walked into the wrong bar sonny…”? Well, that’s what pretty much happened when Silent Hill fired up. See, this was before the snazzy graphics of today, when we generally accepted graphically-lacking games, namely CD-based games, which had terrible textures in place of great CGI cut scenes and CD quality voice acting. It wasn’t all about how a game looked in those days, much like the Super Nintendo, Atari, and Commodore before it; games were judged not by the quality of their graphics, but by the content of their character! We shall overcome. (Seriously, there needs to be a video game National Holiday.) Anyway, as the now-unmistakable theme music began and the story of a father separated from his daughter in a hauntingly strange town called Silent Hill started to play out, every eye in the room was fixed. The story, and the grotesque themes beginning to present themselves had struck a chord within everyone present, and for the next 5 or 6 hours (it’s a little fuzzy now), we wandered the misty streets, explored the dark and dank hallways of dilapidated buildings, and battled the hellish monsters of Silent Hill. My love affair with the franchise had only just begun. Eight direct and indirect sequels later, the Silent Hill series has been a mostly enjoyable, if not intrinsically disturbing ride from hell. The imagery, themes, and overall mythology of Silent Hill is one of the most thought-provoking and well planned out game settings ever created, and begged to have a film made. Well, that’s what we got in 2006. As a huge opponent to most game-turned-movie attempts (and please thank Uwe Boll for effing that one up), I was extremely wary and somewhat worried that any attempt to capitalize on the story of Silent Hill in film-form would be shot down and left to burn like a German zeppelin circa 1944. Not to say it’s impossible to make a good game to movie conversion, it’s just that it’s rarely, if ever, done. I think everyone can agree that the film version of ‘Mortal Kombat’ actually kicked some ass, in an otherwise overpopulated sea of miserable failures like BloodRayne, Wing Commander, and Alone in The Dark. Sometimes games just need to be left alone, there doesn’t NEED to be a movie!
In ‘Silent Hill’, director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of The Wolf) get mostly everything right, and totally proves that something good, nay, GREAT, can come of a game-to-film transition. Gans did several things correctly, right from the beginning. Most importantly, tho some of you may disagree, he chose to steer it towards an “R” rating, right where a story like Silent Hill belongs. This ain’t some take-your-kid-for-Christmas flick. No PG-13 pandering to a wider audience, no watering down of the grisly horrors that manifest in the murky corridors of blood-soaked buildings, and no limit to the distinct vision that Gans could and did bring to his treatment of the tortured town of Silent Hill. The next thing he did right was to assemble a small but highly effective cast to bring the story to life and to actually convey emotion and meaning in said story. Both of these elements combined, coupled with a great art direction and fantastic special effects made for a winning combination, and one I am happy to report is probably one of the greatest films based on a game to ever come out.
Christopher(Bean) and Rose(Mitchell) Da Silva are deeply concerned over their daughter Sharon’s increasingly disturbing behavior. Sharon has begun to draw extremely dark and bothersome pictures in her doodle book, as well as constantly mentioning a place called “Silent Hill”, a place neither of her parents have ever heard of. After a near death episode of sleepwalking, Rose decides to research and visit the town of Silent Hill with Sharon, to perhaps see what is behind the child’s strange and worrisome obsession. Local police officer Cybil Bennett (Holden), who suspects something is wrong when she witnesses Sharon crying at a gas station, follows Rose and Sharon from the station and attempts to pull Rose’s vehicle over to ask some questions. Rose decides to lose the cop and guns it down a dark road marked “Silent Hill”. As the weather suddenly changes and rain begins to pour down, Rose looses control of her SUV when she thinks she sees the figure of a young girl standing in the middle of the road. After losing consciousness in the ensuing wreck, Rose awakens to find Sharon gone. She exits the vehicle and notices what seems to be ash falling down all around her, like snow. As she wanders farther into the seemingly deserted town, she soon finds that there is a much darker presence at play here, and when a long and haunting air-raid siren begins to wail, all that she knows is turned completely upside down. What follows is a fantastic and disturbing ride; as Rose encounters some of the town’s more vile inhabitants, Christopher arrives in Silent Hill in search of his wife and daughter, and the hair-raising past of this cursed town is slowly revealed. The themes at play are huge and sinister, and as a fan of the long running series, it all works rather brilliantly in this film. Taking most of its cues and plot points from the first Silent Hill game for the PlayStation, the film manages to thoroughly creep its way into your head, even if you’ve never played the game, yet it manages to also appease hardcore fans of the franchise with its portrayals of some of the most disgusting elements that make Silent Hill, well, Silent Hill. One of the, if not the most effective scenes in this film was the unveiling of the legendary ‘Pyramid Head’ character from the game series. A towering, blood drenched demon of sorts, Pyramid Head represents the pinnacle of evil within ourselves and Silent Hill, as he forever roams its dark underworld in search of carnage and death. How Gans realized the character and emotion of Pyramid Head was by far my favorite part of the film, and remains, in my opinion, as one of the most vile and horrifying villains in modern horror.
Aside from occasional snippets of acting flubs (and seriously…parts they should have either axed or re-shot), and the premature revealing of the mysterious cult known as The Order, Silent Hill is a shining example of what a great director, a skilled cast, and a dedicated vision can do to a film…and a film based on a video game no less! Christophe Gans has stated multiple times that ‘Silent Hill’ was a labor of love and a personal goal of his, and it shows. The horror is top-notch, the story is undeniably disturbing, and the look and feel of Silent Hill is definitely here.
With a sequel apparently completed and waiting for release, and a returning cast of Bean & Mitchell, as well as newcomers Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix), Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones), and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), we can only expect AND hope that the series will be faithfully carried on.
4.5 out of 5