Director: Christophe Gans
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, Tanya Allen, Alice Krige, Jodelle Ferland
Screenplay: Roger Avary
125 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images, and some language.
Following in the footsteps of Resident Evil, Davis Films partnered with Konami to bring a Silent Hill adaptation to the screen with Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Beauty and the Beast) behind the camera. Gans had been trying to get the rights to the IP for some time, and now was the time to prove his vision. Sadly, the film has gone largely forgotten among video game adaptations, even with a 3D sequel during the height of 3D. I saw the original film back when it released, but it’s been over a decade, so I figured it was time for a rewatch.
Rose De Silva (Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black, London Has Fallen) is on her way to the town of Silent Hill with her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland, Case 39, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), who has been sleepwalking and dreaming of the town. When they arrive, they find that Silent Hill is no normal town. A ghost town during the day, but when the alarm sounds, the entire town transforms into an ash-filled nightmare, full of tortured and deformed creatures. Sharon is taken while Rose is knocked out, and now she must discover what happened to Silent Hill in order to rescue her daughter and escape the town alive.
This is a film of two structures. The first half of the narrative is very loosely structured, almost vignettes as Rose traverses the ghost town and encounters various creatures and nightmare landscapes in search of her daughter. The second half of the film floods the narrative with exposition, often telling us without showing us, including one point where the villain practically speaks to the audience. Even with the heavy-handed exposition machine chugging along, the story becomes a bit of an overcomplicated mess. The film never seems to reconcile these two halves, but having the back half loaded with exposition really affects the pacing and seems to slow down all the momentum that the narrative has built thus far.
Screenwriter Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Beowulf) was able to imbue his script with compelling characters like Rose and Sharon. Their relationship created a need in me as an audience member to see the make it through the haunted house. In contrast, I’m not sure we have a real need for Rose’s husband Christopher, played by Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, TV’s Game of Thrones), in the finished product. His character doesn’t add anything to the story or the characters, which makes him feel like a wasted talent. The same can be said of Officer Cybil (Laurie Holden, Dumb and Dumber To, TV’s The Walking Dead), who has a character that only becomes interesting when she takes the helmet off.
All that being said, the visuals are quite incredible (even with the poorly-aged CGI) and the score and sound design work really well. Even if the story doesn’t land, there’s enough interesting imagery and atmosphere here to entertain and thrill, and Gans channels the video game really well, crafting some sequences that feel lifted from the game, down to adjusting the speed of the filmstock and matching the lighting well.
Silent Hill is very messy. The first half works pretty well as a series of interesting, spooky vignettes, and the narrative would have worked if it wandered aimlessly through the town looking for escape, but the second half does so much unnecessary heavy lifting that it nearly derails the film entirely. Thanks to a couple of likable leads and some striking and atmospheric visuals, Christophe Gans is able to salvage the film into a mostly enjoyable thrill ride.
-Kyle A. Goethe