I have not played the video game upon which this film is based, and I assume that that’s not a prerequisite. If the game is anywhere as creepy and odd as this movie, perhaps I should. The plot concerns a typical family with atypical problems, their young daughter Sharon (played by the J-horror-haired Jodelle Ferland
) is a sleepwalker and it seems as though her somnambulistic journeys take her further and further from the safety of home (in the opening minutes of the movie we see her standing atop a particularly dangerous cliff face). Her parents Rose (Radha Mitchell
) and the dour Christopher (Sean Bean
) are at odds over what to do. Christopher opts for medication, while Rose decides to follow Sharon’s lead. When she’s dreaming, Sharon mentions a town called Silent Hill. Rose decides she’d better bring Sharon to the town and find out just what all the fuss is about. Turns out, Silent Hill is off limits – the place is a ghost town after a disastrous fire. And the fire still burns under its decaying crust.
A car accident, a nosy cop on a motorcycle (Deborah Kara Unger
), and Sharon’s escaping into the deserted town that rains ash, all collide in a chain reaction that leads Rose into a literal heart of darkness. Silent Hill, the town, inhabits a peculiar limbo – it is quite literally cut off from the rest of the world – where air raid sirens (surely some of the creepiest sound effects you’re ever likely to hear in a film) precede the coming of a dark tide that washes over the ghost town with surprising regularity. With the arrival of the eldritch dark, the walls literally shred away, revealing an industrial hellscape that lies somewhere beneath the reality of the decaying town, populated by human-faced, screaming insects, twisted lava infants, and something called “Pyramid Head,” that has an incredibly unwieldy helmet and one of the largest swords in cinema history. It’s a brutal, dark, and hideous place and the highlight of the film. Article continues below
Phantasmagorical. That’s the best word to describe the grotesque, dark world of Silent Hill. Director Christophe Gans
and scripter Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) have created a singularly strange, at times agonizingly frightening, dream-like film. And like any dream, some parts of the film work, others don’t. Some sequences are labored and sketchily delivered, forgettable, while others are intensely realized tableaus of horror and fantasy.
Christophe Gans’ second feature film, the arthouse fav Brotherhood of the Wolf, had a certain fascination with storybook fantasy. It looked like a stripped down, ghoulish version of The Neverending Story – set-based and fantastical. Silent Hill also has this quality. The CGI landscapes and monstrosities are seamlessly combined with strange and terrifying prosthetics and sets, lending the picture an otherworldly feeling. At times it’s like watching a puppeteer’s version of Dante’s Inferno or the brothers Quay’s interpretation of Labyrinth. A long sequence towards the end of the picture, in which all the bizarre, mind-bending twists are elucidated, is one of the finest flashbacks I’ve ever seen. It’s shot like a grainy reel of a forgotten 8mm home movie and it looks perfect. It is truly brilliant. I could watch that one sequence a thousand times over and still be fascinated by it. The soundtrack is also enthralling, veering back and forth between industrial dirges that that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tool or Ministry album and piano solos that are both childish and haunting.
Avary’s script is like a lucid dream where people speak but what they say is nonsensical and oddly stilted. Clearly the plot was more important than characterization. That’s fine, because the acting is, frankly, underwhelming. Gans’ direction is good, a few shots are outstanding, and while the pacing slowly considerably towards the end as the movie rushes to fill us in (losing a lot of its early atmosphere), Gans does a fine job catching up the slack the last few minutes.
Silent Hill will remain something of an oddity, the first half is deliriously horrific and disorienting (Suspiria-like in its lurid imagery), and the second is bogged down by too much exposition but highlighted by clever effects, and is just plain jarring. That being said, Silent Hill is probably the closest you’ll get to actually having a nightmare in a movie theatre outside of a midnight screening of David Lynch’s Eraserhead.