When you consider the kennel of cinematic dogs known as video game adaptations, it’s easy to mark Silent Hill as the best of the lot. The source material is more than enough to inspire a feature film, especially when you consider how quickly the horror genre is leaning away from PG-13 fare and into the darker realms of the R rating. And for the most part director Christophe Gans does an effective job of pulling us into a world of disturbance and danger, taking many of the iconic images and situations from the game and presenting them in all of their nightmarish glory. However, a number of pesky plot holes manage to undercut these truly frightening moments, making me wish writer Roger Avary’s script could have seen another draft.
Our story involves what has become a standard convention, that being the spooky-eyed child who creates bizarre works of art and breaks out into fortuitous spasms. The one in today’s feature is Sharon, who after almost walking off the edge of a cliff not twenty feet from her house utters the phrase, “Silent Hill.” Sharon’s mother, Rose, has heard this all too often, and so decides to steal her away from dear ol’ Dad and take her on a road trip to a town with the same name. An awful idea, to be sure, but Rose is convinced a quick tour of the community will help cure Sharon’s mysterious behavior. Naturally, Silent Hill turns out to be a hotbed of hellish activity, and Sharon is immediately lost in the fray. Now, teamed up with a suspicious lady cop named Cybil, Rose must discover the secrets of this hamlet if she ever hopes to see her daughter again.
What I really appreciated while watching Silent Hill was its utter refusal to indulge in the jump scare tactic. Not once blaring music on the soundtrack cue something to leap in front of the camera, and the audience is never led down a path of fright only to be faked out and shown an innocent cat plunging into a pile of clattering trash cans. All of these are silly tactics, and Hill doesn’t have time for them. It’s too busy giving us the really juicy stuff, from fleshy, walking torsos spouting acidic blood to corrosive, lava-mouthed toddlers swarming on our hero. It only gets stranger as the movie continues, almost to the point of sheer parody, but for a while it actually manages to give horror fans something new.
Problems arise when you realize the film’s pace and structure is exactly like that of a video game. Scenes play out like levels, with Rose finding nonsensical clues in random locations while every now and then going up against strange creatures, and the climax actually plays out like the final showdown of a Playstation entry. Also, while there may not be any jump scares, there sure is a lot of footage of people wandering around while shouting the names of the ones they love. “Sharon! Sharon! SHARON!” You get the idea. Finally, if you do end up watching Silent Hill for whatever reason, don’t expect the ending to make any sense whatsoever. There’s really no way to account for what happens, and it’ll leave you with nothing short of a dull headache.
Fans of the Silent Hill games will undoubtedly get a kick out of seeing their series brought to life, and as I said before, its fantastic sense of cinematography makes it the best looking and most captivating digital adaptation to date. But for some reason the world of Hollywood still has a hard time penning good stories for these projects, which leads me to wonder if the genre will ever really take off. Dull, uninteresting pieces of dreck like Doom and Uwe Boll’s latest exercises in tedium are still being released every year, so this kid isn’t holding out a lot of hope.