Silent Hill Review
Young Sharon Da Silva (Jodelle Ferland) is having nightmares. Awake, she draws pictures of a young girl tied to a stake whilst, at night, she sleepwalks out of her home and into the fields around it. Awake or asleep, Sharon talks about a place called Silent Hill, a ghost town that was deserted many years before when a coal seam underneath it caught fire and has burned continually ever since. But rather than see her daughter suffer unnecessarily, Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) packs up her car, seats a sleeping Sharon in the back seat and leaves home, driving through the night in the direction of Silent Hill.
Nearing the town, Rose hears a police siren behind her and looks to see the flashing lights of a police motorcycle in her rear-view mirror. Accelerating, she drives through the gates of the abandoned town but crashes moments thereafter, seeing a figure on the road ahead that causes her to veer off the road. But waking up moments later, Rose turns to where Sharon was sitting only to find that she's disappeared and that peering into the gloom of Silent Hill offers no clue as to where Sharon might have gone. Leaving the car, Rose hears footsteps ahead and follows them down an alleyway but they're soon drowned out by the sound of an air-raid siren. Looking around, the already dim light disappears completely, leaving Rose in darkness. But sparking a lighter, Rose finds that she is not alone. As the space around her falls away, the brickwork of the alleyway is replaced by barbed wire and metal fences, on which is tied the flayed and blindfolded body of a man. Dragged to the ground by children bearing the scars of severe burns, Rose's nightmare is only beginning...
There are two ways to look at Silent Hill. Or, rather, at least two ways that will be discussed here. The first is as a horror film in its own right, with a need to have a plot, a structure and to have created a world that, if not believable, doesn't strain its own logic. The other is as an adaptation of the videogame on which the film is based. The criteria on whether or not it's judged as a success may not be quite so stringent in those respects but it now must satisfy a fanbase that's already in existence, who will approach the film with favourite scenes and moments in mind. In those respects Silent Hill is something of a failure and a roaring success, respectively.
What makes it such a treat for fans of the series of games is probably easiest to measure. Director Christophe Gans and writer Roger Avary have obviously paid attention to the game, particularly the original PlayStation release. The obvious changes, such as turning Harry Mason into Rose Da Silva, are easy to ignore, as is the backstory that puts Rose and her adoptive daughter Sharon (Cheryl in the game) en route to Silent Hill but the sight of Cybill Bennett is a particularly good one. When Gans and Avary lift the opening Full Motion Video of the game for Rose's drive into Silent Hill, it's an assured steal, the figure in the road echoing that of the ghost of the child Alessa that opens the game, with Rose veering off the road as did Harry. Even better is the film's take on the first sight that gamer's had of Silent Hill's Otherworld, which was first seen on the demo that Konami included with its release of Metal Gear Solid. Silent Hill the movie matches the claustrophobic angles of Silent Hill the game with our first sight of the bloodied, rusting metal fences and rotting flesh being, as odd as it may sound, somewhat heartwarming in its familiarity.
Thereafter, Gans and Avary mix creatures and locations from the games with those created specifically for the game, albeit with themes that are common to Konami's releases. The Mumblers from Silent Hill return as the grey children whilst Pyramid Head and the Nurses from Silent Hill 2 make occasional but welcome appearances. New to the game is The Janitor, a creature in the Otherworld that drags itself across the ground on its belly, its hands and feet tied and its tongue lapping in a grotesque parody of lust, something that hints at themes of sexual abuse present throughout the series of games. That, probably more than anything else, is why Silent Hill succeeds for fans of the game, by being sympathetic to the tone of the games and by recreating it onscreen. The manner in which Gans and Avary have brought the creatures, characters and locations to the screen are all excellent but it's their understanding they have of the games that's best, leaving them able to change the story of Silent Hill in places, such as with the role of Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kara Unger) and the absence of Michael Kaufmann, without having the fans baying of their blood.
However, good as that is, Silent Hill has only a limited appeal for a wider audience. Like the game, it suffers from convoluted plotting and rather runs out of time to make sense of it all, forcing lengthy explanations before the bloody finale. Armed with a knowledge of the game, Silent Hill does make more sense but that Avary struggled to fit most of its plot into a two-hour film is obvious. It doesn't help that, for a horror film, Silent Hill isn't particularly frightening, offering plenty of gruesome imagery but without a sense of dread to make them effective. Equally, it draws heavily on making children out to be terrifying, which was something of a cliche even with the release of Ringu, not to mention how frequently it's been used since. And with a subplot featuring Christopher Da Silva (Sean Bean) and Police Office Thomas Gucci (Kim Coates) that begins promisingly but ends with nothing and an awful ending that owes much to Hellraiser and, once again, Ringu, Silent Hill is often an unsatisfying experience.
But if the music of composer Akira Yamaoka, the scratchy string music that played over the picture of Alessa Gillespie in Silent Hill, is familiar to you, be assured that all of these complaints can be overlooked in favour of enjoying one of the better videogame adaptations. Granted, that's not actually saying very much, in spite of my liking of Paul WS Anderson's efforts, but the tone of the film is so accurate that fans of the games, specifically those with fond memories of the original PlayStation game, will have little to complain about here.
Being a recent release, this looks pretty good, able to handle the picture well without losing much detail in the darkness. And it is, it's worth saying, an incredibly dark film, one that had me turning up the brightness and contrast on my plasma screen, which isn't something that one ought to do, just to see through the gloom. There is, therefore, some obvious noise in the picture, such as when Radha Mitchell uses her lighter in the alleyway during her first visit to the Otherworld, but it's not distracting and other than some banding that was produced by the television, it doesn't look at all bad.
The DD5.1 audio track is very good, often bordering on the excellent. The sound of the air-raid sirens that announce the fade into the Otherworld is impressive, heralding the clang of metal, the grinding of machinery, the groaning of the grey children and the scrape of Pyramid Head's sword along the ground. With good use of the surround speakers and the subwoofer receiving a working out with the background hum of the Otherworld, Silent Hill is a good-sounding DVD, making it a very decent presentation of the film on this release.
The main extra here is a Making Of (47m18s), an fairly average look behind the scenes at the production and the design of the feature. What is good about it is that it appears to cover almost everything about the making of the film that one might have an interest in, such as the casting of the actors, the design of the sets and the creation of the monsters. However, it does also demonstrate what's wrong with this DVD in that there is much talk from Christophe Gans and Roger Avary about the origins of the film and it being based on a videogame but without ever showing anything of the game itself.
Perhaps I'm spoiled after Bloodrayne, which included the full PC version of Bloodrayne 2 as an extra, but how hard would it have been to have included the original Silent Hill on this DVD. After all, it was written for the old PlayStation, the PSOne, which is no longer in production and can only be bought second hand. The game itself is out of print as are the individual releases of its first two sequels. Only Silent Hill 4 and the Silent Hill Collection compilation release is currently widely available. I can't really see why Konami, Pathe (in the UK) and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (in the US) couldn't have included a PC version of Silent Hill wrapped within a PlayStation emulator.
Could it be done? Well, a quick search online has revealed that several bedroom coders have done just that, wrapping a much-reduced PlayStation emulator, probably epsxe, around an ISO of Silent Hill. Granted that such a release is illegal - epsxe requires the PlayStation BIOS, which Sony have not released - and though that is primarily why we won't be providing links, it is proof that it could be done. If a bedroom programmer could do it, why not the professional coders at Konami, who, I would imagine, would have sufficient programming nous to write a dedicated emulator without the need for the BIOS. Perhaps given the age of the game, they didn't think there would be much interest in it but there would probably have been more of a diversion of one's time than the making-of that has been included. Or it may have been, as is more likely, a legal issue, which is unfortunate as despite the best efforts of Home of the Underdogs and Mobygames, software studios display a carelessness with their copyrighted material that is quite shameful.
Silent Hill is a classic survival horror game as well as being one of the most outstanding games of the past decade. And yet even in the short time since its release, being October 2000, it's unavailable. Can you imagine not being able to buy DVDs of Almost Famous, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Memento, all films released that same year? Or even films from 1990, a decade earlier? Silent Hill is not even six years old and it's impossible to buy new. Is it any surprise that there will be those who turn towards pirate editions of the game when Konami refuse to make it available? Perhaps this DVD wasn't the right place for it but the inclusion of the full release of a game on the Bloodrayne DVD showed imagination, something that the producers of this DVD lacked.
Otherwise, there is a Photo Gallery, TV Spots and a Trailer but nothing, sadly, that makes up for the lack of the game itself of which there isn't even any footage in the making-of. Unbelievable...
Apologies for writing what must sound like a rant but despite the strangest of sources, being Bloodrayne, the DVD releases of videogame adaptations do tend to look rather ropey. Granted, I could complain about the DVD release of The Railway Children not including an electronic copy of the book, which is out of copyright, but perhaps both are a symptom of the rather poor standard of DVD extras. As we head into a high-definition era with HD DVD and Blu-Ray, it certainly doesn't look to be getting any better either.
Silent Hill, though, has a decent making-of and not much else but it has been presented well and isn't a bad film, probably of much less interest to anyone without prior knowledge of the game but alright nonetheless. Therefore, much as I enjoyed it, I've scored it with that in mind with an acceptance that it won't work as well for anyone who've let Silent Hill pass them by. To those, I would recommend that game moreso than this film, that being based on a videogame that rarely, and to a greater extent than this film, is difficult, adult, genuinely creepy and has something of a heart. Oh that the same could be same of films based on videogames.