Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Silent Hill

No, it isn't very pretty
what a town without pity can do

 - Gene Pitney

Making a movie based on a video game can be quite tricky. Follow the game too literally and the general audience may not be able to figure out what's going on. Disregard important aspects of the game and you risk losing the fanbase, particularly if that game has a strong following. Yep, it's a risky business and the reason why most video game adaptations don't work well. To it's credit, Silent Hill is pretty ambitious in its attempt to make everyone happy. Sadly, it just doesn't work as well as it should have.

The plot of the movie follows the first Silent Hill game closely, but with a few key differences. The main protagonist of the first game, Harry, has been replaced by a female lead, Rose (Radha Mitchell) whose adopted daughter Sharon is having all sorts of terrible nightmares about the town of Silent Hill. Disregarding her husband's wishes, Rose decides to figure out the mystery once and for all and takes Sharon to the deserted town on a dark, foggy night. On the way, they crash, Sharon disappears and it's up to Rose to find out the secret to Silent Hill.

Okay, let's talk about two key things Silent Hill got right: music and atmosphere. Fans of the series (of which I am one) will love the way the music is used throughout the movie. It not only references the Silent Hill themes but takes the music and ambient noise directly from the games and it works extremely well throughout.

The atmosphere of Silent Hill is amazing and the town is really brought to life with some of the most inspired set design imaginable. A thick, foggy grayness permeates over the city streets as flecks of white fall delicately from the sky and when the "dark side" takes over, the steel girders and dank appearance looks like it came right out of the game. There's some neat little nods to the gameplay too, like dead end streets where the asphalt ends into cliffs over nowhere, and Rose's cell phone playing static when a monster comes near. It's these little touches that really bring the game to the big screen.

Oh, and the monsters....

Well, the monsters in this movie are a mixed lot to be sure. The armless acid-spitting mannequin from Silent Hill 2 is there and boy, he looks terrific. The animated bugs look like terrible CGI and aren't in the least bit frightening. The nurses are interesting, but their uniforms look like cheap "sexy nurse" Halloween costumes and they move more like modern dancers than monsters. The only danger I got from them is that they could, at any moment, break out with "jazz hands", which may or not not be scary depending on how you feel about chorus lines. But all these monsters take a backseat to the king-mack-daddy monster of them all, Pyramid Head. And they did him right, folks. With his red leather apron, muscular torso, triangle metal mask and machete dragging slowly across the ground, he is definitely the stuff of nightmares. Sadly though, he is underused. Why? Because the writers decided that monsters aren't all that scary and decided to focus on the cult. 

That damned cult!

At the halfway point in the film, the filmmakers decided they couldn't trust Americans to enjoy a good mess-with-your-brain horror movie and threw in a bunch of people in the form of a cult to explain everything. Why? Why add humans that aren't even interesting humans?  Oh, there are a few people from the game, such as Dahlia Gillespie, but she's utterly ruined by a redeeming character arc. Then there are new characters such as Christabella who add nothing to the movie and are completely forgettable. Rose's husband on the "other side" pops in occasionally to show us all he's still in the movie and then leaves. And then there's dark Alessa who pretty much only serves to talk. And talk. And talk. She talks to Rose for 20 minutes, explaining the plot, explaining her existence, explaining her history, explaining...oh god, who cares. It really is one of the low points in horror movie history for me and it's just plain lazy on the part of the writers who figured that the viewing audience were too dumb for the mind-screw. Hey writers, guess what? We're not.

There are a million ways they could have made this better. By focusing on the monsters, for example, instead of making the cult the main antagonist. Or taking some of the scarier moments from the game, like Cybil at the carnival, or Lisa the nurse slowly turning into a monster and reaching out in terror, not knowing what is happening to her but instead we're stuck with explanations and uninteresting characters. So sorry, Silent Hill, you're just not a town worth visiting again, except in the games. Seriously, if you haven't played the games before, go get them and play them. Now. I'll wait. I've got nothing going on really,

Favorite Moments (may contain spoilers):
  • The first look at Silent Hill with its deserted streets and buildings and ash falling from the sky.
  • The changing of the light to the "dark side" complete with crumbling walls and decaying floors.
  • Any moment with Pyramid Head. This movie was in desperate need of more Pyramid Head. In fact, everything could use a little more Pyramid Head. Yeah, I said it.
Fun Facts Kids!
  • The acid-spitting mannequin was nicknamed "Trojan Man" on the set because of the silicone "condom" that was pulled down around the actor as part of his costume.
  • To get the imposing look of Pyramid Head,  stunt coordinator Roberto Campanella wore 15-inch tall boots strapped to his ankles.
  • The witch in the mural of the witch burning in the church was based on Deborah Kara Unger's (Dahlia Gillespie) likeness. 
  •  Some of the set's decaying effects were used as inspiration in creating later Silent Hill games.

Agree? Disagree? Or just have a random string of curse words you'd like to share? Comment!

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