Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Review: Silent Hill

When I first learned about the "Silent Hill" series, I was quite intrigued by the general premise; unfortunately, the first game pretty much killed that stone-dead. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but when your everyman protagonist faces and kills an enormous split-mouthed lizard monster, he should be the slightest. bit. perturbed. I know I would be. That, and my less-than-adequate skills at third-person shooters, led me to stop halfway through the first game.

I was nevertheless looking forward to the film adaptation, even though successful game-to-movie translations are extremely rare: amidst such horrors as "Doom", "Mortal Kombat", "Wing Commander", "Street Fighter" and "Alone In The Dark", one should feel extremely lucky to find "Tomb Raider" or "Resident Evil" (the originals, of course; video game films seem even more suspectible to the Sucky Sequels rule than most genres).

Fortunately, "Silent Hill" turned out rather well; better, perhaps, than the games it's based on. I think part of it has to do with the difference between active and passive participation: as a gamer, you can't really afford to take in the environment because you're too busy running/fighting for your life. And a big part of the Silent Hill experience is the town itself and the horrors within. It's much easier to appreciate the intense atmosphere when you have the luxury of watching things unfold.

Plot-wise, the movie offers a relatively streamlined story (certainly in comparison to the jumble of mismatched threads in the first game) - Rose DaSilva takes her adopted daughter Sharon to Silent Hill, to investigate Sharon's mysterious connection to the town. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding with a police officer results in a car crash, and when Rose regains consciousness Sharon has disappeared into the mists of the town. Meanwhile, Rose's husband Chris tries to follow his family only to end up on a completely different track (both figuratively and literally). There are quite a few twists and turns along the way, and it all comes together very nicely - Chris' subplot seems pointless at first until it suddenly, chillingly underscores Rose's situation, and that's the sort of careful thinking I find extremely praiseworthy.

One major difference between the games and the film is how the backstory/mythology is used: while the games dabble in various vague references to gods and demons and fake demons and such, the film chooses to offer a scenario that's much more heavily rooted in concepts we as Western viewers can understand. As such, it's easier to comprehend, and perhaps more plausible because of that. I largely approve of the decision to ultimately explain what's going on in Silent Hill - the games went the other way by emphasizing the utter, inexplicable chaos, and that works when you have a series of open-ended narratives, but for a self-contained story it's often best to go with partial or full disclosure.

The acting is pretty consistently good across the board - Radha Mitchell and Laurie Holden (Rose and Cybil Bennett, respectively) don't have that much to do by virtue of their role requirements, but Jodelle Ferland is amazing as Alessa/The Demon, and Alice Krige steals the show as the intimidating Christabella.

I don't know if "Silent Hill" can really be considered a successful adaptation as such, given the liberties it takes with its source material. But it stands as a very good and very atypical horror movie, and that counts for a lot.