Have you ever had one of the most terrifying nightmares of your entire life, and then tried to explain it to your friend? You couldn’t could you? I wonder if someone asked writer Roger Avary, “How can we put a perpetual nightmare on the big screen?” It’s almost as if Avary had one of these nightmares and somehow was able to put his thoughts on paper – which is still impossible to translate onto the big screen.
In TriStar Pictures’ big screen adaptation of the popular video game, the eerie and deserted ghost town of Silent Hill draws a young mother desperate to find a cure for her only child’s illness. Unable to accept the doctor’s diagnosis that her daughter should be permanently institutionalized for psychiatric care, Rose (Radha Mitchell) flees with her child, heading for the abandoned town in search of answers — and ignoring the protests of her husband (Sean Bean). It’s soon clear this place is unlike anywhere she’s ever been. It’s smothered by fog, inhabited by a variety of strange beings and periodically overcome by a living Darkness that literally transforms everything it touches. As Rose searches for her little girl, she begins to learn the history of the strange town and realizes that her daughter is just a pawn in a larger game.
‘Silent Hill’ could easily have been the next GOOD ‘Hellraiser’ movie, as the film brings to life not only an uncomfortable tone, but numerous horrifying creatures and incoherent situations. Director Christophe Gans creates a film along the lines of a children’s fantasy such as ‘Dark Crystal’ or ‘The Neverending Story’ – only it truly is a horror pic.
There is absolutely nothing organic in the film, everything feels and appears to be fake. Even when Rose is walking through set pieces something tells us that this is not reality. Taking many notes from Carpenter’s classic ‘In the Mouth of Madness’, this tale of terror is frantic and completely fictitious, sometimes to be scared you need to believe that this is possible; you get none of that in ‘Silent Hill.’
What works for and against Gans’ vision is the linier line that the tale is told. Like many children’s fantasy films the creatures are placed in front of us one-by -one, and as the movie progresses we see cooler and cooler designs heightening the experience. The story is of no importance and all we care about is “what will we see this time!?” Rose starts at point A and is following laid out clues to get to point B, while all along trying to survive losing her mind in bizarre and deranged situations.
As she follows the trail, a siren sounds every 15-minutes or so and everything goes pitch black – that’s when the evil comes. Much like prior pics like ‘Blair Witch’ we become instructed to understand that when the siren sounds, sh-t is going to hit the fan, and when the lights come back on you can breathe easy. Nothing is a surprise in the film, everything is simply laid out and executed in a way that even a two-year-old could follow… that is until the end.
The end of the film features one of the most violent and insane slaughter sequences since ‘Hellraiser III’ when JP Monroe unleashes Pinhead in his night club. People have their flesh ripped right of their bodies, they’re torn apart limb from limb and even destroyed from the inside out! If you want a vision of hell, you’re going to get it.
Christophe Gans stops at nothing to ensure that horror fans get a visual feast of violence, brutality and gore. The FX work is astounding and really captures the atmosphere, the fantasy so-to-speak. The film looks gorgeous as it’s constantly snowing (I should note that it’s snowing ashes, not snow).
And as much as the film is incoherent, there is still a fantastic sub-story about the history of the town. The idea that there’s a town that you can’t go to because there are still fires burning beneath the ground is truly an exceptional idea. But what will hurt the film in the long run is that non-organic touch that will ensure that people don’t connect with the characters, the story or anything else for that matter. The funny thing is I would say this is the type of film that you’d stick in front of your child and then go cook dinner, but obviously that’s not what you’d do. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you can still appreciate a film from your childhood, then maybe you can keep your attention focused on this unorthodox horror pic.
A masterpiece? I don’t think so — A cult classic? It just might become one.
Good or bad, I think that ‘Silent Hill’ will be one of the most talked about horror films in years.