Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2006

The silence of the stupid

Overstuffed 'Silent Hill' has nothing to say, and too much to say about it

Silent Hill
Columbia Tri-Star Films
Director: Christophe Gans
Screenplay: Roger Avary, based on the video game
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, Alice Krige and Jodelle Ferland
Rated R / 2 hours, 5 minutes
Opened April 21, 2006
(out of four)

When your daughter is having a bit of a sleeping problem, wandering off in the middle of the night and nearly throwing herself off a cliff while sleepwalking and screaming about a town called Silent Hill, clearly the best course of action is to take her to the very town that is giving her such intense nightmares. Even if said town is closed off from all civilization because of a tragic fire that killed all of its inhabitants 30 years ago. It is definitely a good idea to go there with your 10-year-old daughter in the middle of the night.

But why am I bothering with logic? My apologies, please. For that is just the set-up; regardless of its stupidity, there are plenty of movies with similarly ridiculous plot set-ups that turn out to be quite good, engrossing films.

But this is not one of them. This is one of those movies that spends more than two hours trying to tell us a story in increasingly elaborate detail - flashbacks, back-stories, complicated explanations of rituals, histories, etc. - only to confuse us worse and worse the more details and explanations we get. This is the very definition of bad storytelling.

Against her husband's wishes, Rose (Radha Mitchell) takes their adopted daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) to the ghost town of Silent Hill, West Virginia, only to discover when they get there that the town is immersed in fog and ash and ruin . . . and, of course, the dead citizens who perished there three decades ago.

On the way there, Rose wrecks her Jeep while driving entirely too fast, and when she wakes up discovers that her daughter has gone missing. Could she be sleepwalking again? Or does she have some spiritual connection to this place. Oh, I've said too much!

Rose befriends a buxom, leather-clad motorcycle cop named Cybil (Laurie Holden) and together the two will frolic through the town looking for her lost daughter. They come upon Dahlia (Deborah Kara Unger), a crazy old lady who also lost her daughter, who looks uncannily like Rose's own daughter. Clever foreshadowing ensues.

"Silent Hill" is based on the video game of the same name, one I played many years ago and remember enjoying quite a bit. Unfortunately, the film version in many ways stays too true to its roots, right down to the bare-bones storytelling.

Rose finds a clue, goes looking for Sharon in a school and then gets attacked by . . . um, slugs . . . or something. Or slug people . . . made of fire . . . or something. She tries to fight them off, eventually kills them, and then she advances to the next level.

She finds another clue, gets attacked by people that look like those quarantined guys in white suits from "E.T.," gets away from them, and then advances to the next level.

Then, you're never going to believe this, she finds another clue, then gets attacked by headless nurse corpses, defeats them, and then advances to the next level. Director Christophe Gans should have just gotten it over with and played that cool "you've advanced to the next level" sound from the video game. I wish I knew how to phonetically spell that sound on my keyboard, but alas . . .

It must be difficult to adapt a video-game storyline to full-length screenplay format - a fact proven by the repeated failures to make a successful switch from console to big screen - but Roger Avary ("The Rules of Attraction") just fails miserably. It's easy to follow for a while as he follows the video-game formula, but as the film progresses, his efforts grow increasingly complicated and confusing. Perhaps there is a thrilling and complex story in there somewhere, but Avary has not found it. For once, here is a film that needs less story.

As the story moves along, we get to the completely unsurprising discovery that all is not as it seems, but for the life of me I can't figure out exactly what the film is trying to tell me. I mean, I've got the story basically figured out . . . I've got all the details and I know how everything fits . . . but what is its significance? Why do we care? Why does any of what happens happen? Do the filmmakers even care?

There's something about witches . . . and religious fanatics . . . and the devil . . . and a "reaper" of some sort, but not the one you're thinking of . . . and an orphanage . . . did I mention witches? I didn't? Well, that's the funniest part.

The fanatics are led by an insane woman who, according to IMDb, is named "Valtiel the Yellow God," though I don't think anybody has any idea what that means. I guess they had to call her something, and that was as good a name as any.

Anyway, she and her fanatical flock like to burn heretics and witches at the stake, a ritual that not only plays a major role in the film's third act, but provides the kind of unintentional humor that is likely to bring the house down. Rose avoids such a nasty fate when she triumphantly enters the church and declares, "She turned me into a newt!"

This brings the proceedings to a screeching halt.

OK, that doesn't actually happen. But it should have. At least then the story might have been getting somewhere. As it is, "Silent Hill" is excruciatingly tedious and overstays its welcome by about 45 minutes . . . or more.

Gans, making his Hollywood debut, helmed the beautifully photographed "Brotherhood of the Wolf" a few years ago, and like that movie, "Silent Hill" has a lot of nice visual elements. Gans doesn't over-do the CGI and creates some genuinely spooky imagery . . . but that just can't make up for everything else. Nor can Mitchell, a talented up-and-comer who was so good playing two different characters in Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" but is left with little to do in this starring role.

I can't claim to remember the "Silent Hill" video game particularly well, but if the people who were sitting behind me in the theatre are to be trusted, the film follows the game as well as can be expected. Throughout the film, I was subjected to a running commentary courtesy of the very annoying gentlemen behind me. They informed us all that this, that and the other thing were "just like the game."

"I bet the bridge is gone," one of them said. "That's how it is on the game."

Well, I don't care how it was on the game - the movie doesn't work. No way, no how. I might have minded the running comments a lot more if the movie had succeeded. As it is, the gentlemen behind me at least provided more interesting dialogue than the movie itself. Consider this exchange:

Cybil: "They used to say this town was haunted."

Rose: "I think they were right."

Indeed.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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