At The Picture Show
The silence of the stupid
Overstuffed 'Silent Hill' has nothing to say, and too much to say about it
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
"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
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."
Read more by Chris Bellamy