|Written by Bill Warren|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
“Silent Hill” is another movie based on a video game; some aficionados of the game say that the film is particularly close to the game, both visually and in terms of action. That must really be saying something, because visually, “Silent Hill” is stunning: the dark-toned, brown-and-gray cinematography by Dan Laustsen is extremely effective—this is a great-looking movie. He works very well with the production design by Carol Spier, and the high definition of this Blu-Ray DVD makes this a surprisingly good-looking example of the technique. The sound design is excellent, with good use made of all of the speakers in a 5.1 system.
Unfortunately, that’s about it for “Silent Hill.” The story may work well in the video game, but as a movie, it’s sloppy, unconvincing, repetitious and almost impossible to figure out. Young mother Rose (Radha Mitchell) is worried about the tendency of her daughter Anna (Tanya Allen) to sleepwalk to high cliffs and mutter “Silent Hill.” Despite the warning by her husband Christopher (Sean Bean, looking misplaced), Rose immediately dashes off with Tanya to the real Silent Hill, a town in what seems to be the Carolinas. Years before, the coal mine beneath the town caught fire; it’s been burning ever since (this has really happened) and the inhabitants have supposedly fled the town.
When they reach the town, it’s deserted, and fine gray ash falls out of the sky like dry, temperature-less snow, coating the town. The road through the town ends in a sheer cliff. Anna disappears and Rose is confronted by black gnomes that have char lines, with live coals, running through them. Later, an overzealous highway patrol cop, Cybil (Laurie Holden), sort of arrests Rose for being weird, and they go into the town together to look for Anna. They’re immediately confronted by a creature that looks like a walking fist; when Cybil shoots it, it dissolves into soot. Neither woman is taken aback by these apparitions.
Meanwhile, accompanied by who I guess is another cop (Kim Coates), Christopher heads for Silent Hill himself. Eventually he enters the town, which though deserted, looks different to his eyes than to Rose’s. They seem to be in two parallel universes, hers being the grungier. They never make contact.
Rose and Cybil continue to follow what seem to be clues, hoping to find Anna. And still, nothing weird that happens ever seems to have any impact on them; they just take things as they come and continue on their way. Eventually, they wind up at a gigantic church filled with what seem to be several hundred people, led by a serene but angry religious zealot (Alice Krige). It’s unclear if these are living people or some form of ghost. If they aren’t ghosts, where do they live? We rarely see anyone in the streets of silent hill, although early on Rose encounters a stringy-haired madwoman whom she chats with as if they were two ordinary housewives out for a stroll.
Some of the apparitions, if that’s what they are, look amazing. There’s a giant, shackled figure of a man, his head surmounted by a long black metal mask, like a blind raven, that wades through thousands of swarming CGI insects that scuttle around his legs and over his body. At one point, he grabs a woman, rips off her clothes, and then her skin.
Some of the images are ugly and brutal, as when one woman is lashed to a ladder and lowered over a bonfire until she roasts to death—and we see all of this. At the climax, what seems to be living barbed wire erupts from a pit and slashes at the people in church. What it does to their leader is awesome, hideous and depressing.
So is this whole long, long movie. It’s over two hours long, without a trace of joy or any real energy. The screenplay is by Roger Avary, who won an Oscar for “Pulp Fiction,” but he and “Silent Hill” are not likely to be on the list of contenders for next year’s honors. The story here is murky and slow moving; almost nothing is explained, and nothing—absolutely nothing—connects what happens in town to the coal mine fire burning beneath it. The cast works hard—Alice Krige is especially good—but they’re spinning their collective wheels. And Sean Bean literally does nothing at all; he comes here, he goes there, and has no effect on the proceedings.
As a demonstration of Blu-Ray’s high-def video, “Silent Hill” is effective. As almost anything else, well, this disc would make a good coaster for drinks.