I love Silent Hill. It’s borderline an obsession. Silent Hill 2 was a master piece. 3 is permanently burnt in my mind. In fact I have fond memories of almost all the Silent Hill games. The movie… eh not so much. I am not going to even reference the second one. The second one is a cringe-worthy abomination. I mean come on, a pop tart jump scare? No seriously at one point they try to scare you with a frosted pop tart. No, I will not speak of it.
But the first movie I have very mixed feelings on and it seems fans, in general, are pretty much divided on the subject. Not only that but bring it up in certain circles is likely to cause a heated debate.
I, originally, was extremely excited about seeing it when it came out. However, I left the theater a bit in shock. I resolved that I hated the movie an would never watch it again. Regardless, I keep coming back to the movie and have found myself, more than once referencing it.
You may ask: “So if you hate the movie what could you possibly love about it?”
Indeed why? Why would I go back to a movie I swore off? I have weighed out the reasons and think I have an answer. So let me go down the reasons why I love (and hate!) this movie.
The sets are amazing
The most obvious reason I come back to Silent hill is the look and feel of the movie. The first movie used about 107 different, fully functioning, sets. I don’t just mean a small room here or there I’m talking entire buildings and even the entire town of Silent Hill. Christophe Gans (along with Carol Spier as production designer) did a remarkable job of creating practical, amazing, and horrifying vistas. We really feel these places exist because they actually do exists. you can touch them. The metal rusted hell is actually there. The fog is really there. In fact, they went through tremendous trouble to build the mountain side road indoors so they could use practical fog rather than CGI it into the film.
It is visually stunning and it does an effective job of immersing, involving, and at the same time revolting the audience. As an artistic type this appeals very much to me. I look at the hard work and effort put into this movie and I find it absolutely breathtaking.
The Costumes and makeup are phenomenal
Patrick Tatopoulos (creature effects) and Paul Jones (Makeup Effects) effectively brought the creatures of silent hill to life with a great deal of care. They are slightly different than the game creatures but they capture the essence of the games while bringing their own vision to the monsters and making it their own. The armless man was literally a giant rubber condom stretched over the actor. He was essentially blind and breathing through a tube that ran out the back of the costume. That is some of the lengths they went to to get the look. It’s not an easy task. The creatures are partly human and partly inhuman. Plastic and flesh. They aren’t gory but they are incredibly disturbing and uncanny.
You can’t go wrong with using the original music created for the series. Akira Yamaoka is a genius when it comes to minimalist, ambient, and brooding music. So many artist have drawn inspiration from his style and pieces. Honestly, nothing else would have fit the movie.
I know at this point you immediate go to some of the terrible lines of Jodelle Ferland (maybe even a few inconsistencies with Alice Krige) but really the acting is decent. It may not be award winning but they are believable characters. They did the best with the lines given. But I’m not just including the face actors though. The nurse actresses, Michael Cota as the armless man, Yvonne Ng as the Grey child, and of course Roberto Campanella as the Pyramid Head/Janitor. All did an unbelievably convincing job of creating the unnatural and jerky creatures they portrayed. The all had a otherworldly unnatural feel. Besides, Look at the first few Silent hill games… there were no academy award wining performances there.
OK so I’ve gushed a bit about what I love now what about the bad parts of the movie? Why do I think it just didn’t cut the mustard in terms of faithfully upholding the Silent hill name? I will only touch on two because, while there are a ton of nitpicky things I could drone on and on about, these two things are detrimental to the film.
I don’t want to sound like one of the nerdy crybabies who think Silents Hill should never change. I don’t agree with that at all. Silent Hill is FOREVER changing. It is highly tailored to the individuals who are drawn there. James Sunderland was the only one who could see the Red Pyramid Thing (A.K.A Pyramid Head) and who can forget Vincent’s chilling line in Silent hill 3?
As a result, I loved Shattered Memories and Downpour because they tried to bring a fresh new perspective. While games like homecoming I still enjoyed, I didn’t like their overuse of familiar ideas nor the rehash of elements of the movie.
Silent Hill is a personal hell that the protagonists have to work through. It’s chock full of jungian archetypes and symbolism. It’s shrouded is layers of mystery and symbolism that takes critical analysis to peel back and resolve. The story is much like a trip to the psychologist: You need multiple visits to work it all out. Some of it you may never be able to resolve and will remain shrouded in mystery. This is what makes Silent Hill stand out from other survival horror games. It’s not just about solving puzzles and killing monsters. It’s a whisper in the dark delivering the most devastating information imaginable.
Unfortunately, the movie is nothing like this. The story is schlocky and cheap. It is full of Hollywood cliches we’ve seen a thousand times. A quick look on TV tropes shows roughly 60 cliche tropes! I’m not saying tropes are bad but their overuse is. The movie brings us nothing new or innovated story-wise and it is dull and lifeless. I feel that is it’s biggest transgression.
You could say: “Yeah but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a popcorn flick just turn off your mind and enjoy.”
I’m so tired of this argument. With all the crap being rebooted and “re-imagined” in recent years (with no end in site) I need a breath of fresh air. Especially in the horror genre. I need something that isn’t dumbed down. I need something that doesn’t beat me over the head with basic plots and obtuse symbolism that a 4 year old can pinpoint. I don’t need everything tied up in a pretty little bow. Give me ambiguity and give me symbols and actions left to interpretation. Silent hill is made for this. It is the epitome of what the horror genre needs. It should stand out from the torture porns and jump scares. But sadly it blends right in.
Cheryl changed to Sharon, Harry Mason becomes Rose Da Silva, Dahlia Gillespie’s character is completely changed, and a slew of unnecessary plot point added that only made the story more complicated and pointless. I get making the story there own, but there were so many changes made in rendered the story ineffectual. For how long it felt it didn’t really tell us anything.
Sharon has bad dreams and sleep walks. Even though there is a precedent for this, she manages to leave the families house as she has visions of Silent Hill. She nearly walks off a ledge but her mother saves her while she literally screams “Silent Hill! Silent Hill!” (all in the shadow of a giant neon cross). So Sharon and her mom go on a road trip to a city that is illegal (and which terrifies her). All the while breaking laws and ignoring warnings. She drives like a bat out of hell into Silent Hill, crashes due to someone in the road, and Rosa wakes up to Sharon missing. Subtle! Like poetry!
Now look at the original opening:
We open with Harry Mason and his daughter driving down the road. He sees someone in the road, crashes, and wakes up to Cheryl missing.
Do you see? there was no need to monkey with the plot. It was simple and effective. We don’t need to know why they are driving and we don’t need to know what they had for breakfast. It doesn’t matter and, honestly, adds to the mystery and bewilderment. Complications like this permeate the movie. They can’t seem to do anything without too much exposition. They change things that don’t need changing and over explain the most puerile of ideas. So we end up filling up on bread only to find out there is no meat being served. It’s flat, tasteless and leaves us wanting more.
I could go on but at this point the movie is damaged beyond saving. They have sucked the life out of one of the most amazing concepts and then, if that wasn’t bad enough, continued to add more insult to injury in the sequel.
Does this mean Silent Hill is ruined?
Of course not. But movie executives aren’t going to look favorably on making another one of quality. Maybe if some aspiring independent director who really gets it can revive the story but who knows.
We may never get the movie the property deserves. But… perhaps we shouldn’t. Silent Hill maybe is just too deep. Too involved. Too intricate for the silver screen to give it justice in 90 to 120 minutes. Well, except that we kind of already did get a movie… 9 years before Silent Hill was a thing.
The 1990 movie staring Tim Robbins. In it Robbins (mourning his dead child), a haunted Vietnam war veteran attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.
It has everything the Silent Hill movie should have been:
Creepy imagery and sets
If you haven’t seen it i highly recommend you do. It’s an odd gem in the rough that really captures the heart of Silent Hill. In fact, Team Silent (who created the first few Silent Hill games), directly cited the movie as inspiration for Silent Hill.
However, I hear they are remaking it at some point and they will probably destroy it as well.