Oh, it's a disease, I know: if a movie comes out based on a video game, I have to see it. There is no logical reason for this – it has caused me far more pain than enjoyment. It has introduced me to Uwe Boll, caused me to hate Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, and it has more than once caused me to consider that the two forms of entertainment may resemble each other at times, but overall they do not mix.
Now into that stew let us inject the name of Christophe Gans.
Gans is likely best known in these parts as the director of Brotherhood of the Wolf and a film version of the manga Crying Freeman, as yet lacking an official American release. Gans is a very good director, flashy but not overly flashy, solid – he entertains, he is a storyteller I know I can rely upon – and hearing that he was in charge of the film version of Silent Hill gave me hope.
The Silent Hill games concern the titular town, a fog-enshrouded city of indeterminate locale which is infested with monsters. Not your commonplace zombies or vampires, no, these are weird, disturbing things, rushing, flapping and shambling at you out of the fog, and every so often, the sound of an air raid siren presages Silent Hill slipping into "the Underworld", a dark mirror dimension where things are worse.
Now, for the purpose of the movie, the initial game's male protagonist has become a woman, who takes her adoptive daughter to Silent Hill, because it seems to be the trigger for the child's increasingly dangerous sleepwalking episodes. True to the game, there is a minor wreck, the woman awakes in a car bereft of daughter, and she begins following a figure, distantly, briefly seen that may be her daughter, deeper and deeper into the town, its mysteries and its monsters.
Silent Hill takes its story points from the first three games, while forging a tale of its own. Some may point to that as indication of the movie's failure, but I would say it is more its strength; the first hour or so, when the viewer blinks and wonders if he is watching a movie or a screenshot for the game, that's well and good. Yes, the filmmakers had some familiarity with the source material, at least – but that only means that, as the movie begins unraveling it's own central mysteries, that is when my faculties were engaged – here was something new, worthy of attention. Video games will tease out a story over many hours of play, a luxury movies do not have.Also worth mentioning: the film's story is also totally driven by its female characters, something you usually don't see in American genre cinema (I know, I know, French director, but still...)
Though you have your typical moments of stupid people doing stupid things, there are several genuinely creepy moments, and the movie builds to a satisfyingly horrific conclusion. Overall, Silent Hill is a fairly good supernatural horror movie released in a time when the term "horror movie" has increasingly come to mean "sociopaths torture some people". That alone helps to raise it in my estimation.
Horror movies can put the digital media through its paces quite nicely, especially one as dependent upon darkness as Silent Hill - though perhaps I should also say it will test your monitor, as well. Viewing upon my primary set revealed deep rich blacks and amazing shadow detail. A second viewing on my computer's LCD screen was just black, period.
The menus play against a constantly shifting montage of images from the movie, slightly delirious and thoroughly appropriate.
You will first be greeted by trailers for Ghost Rider, Benchwarmers, and the Ultraviolet DVD (which is jarringly presented in 4:3) - these are skippable with the Chapter Advance or Menu button. From the main menu, you can access these, and trailers for Casino Royale, Basic Instinct 2, Underworld: Evolution, Hollow Man 2, Population 436, The Woods, The Boondocks, Quincinera, and The Fog, a bizarre hodge-podge of anamorphic and flat commercials over a variety of genres.
The only other extra is Path of Darkness: Making Silent Hill, a six part doc covering Origins, Casting, Set Design, Stars and Stunts, Creatures Unleashed, and Creature Choreography. There is a very welcome "Play All" option, though sitting through it all in one pass - it clocks in at just under an hour - will often present you with the same backstage clip several times, in different segments. It also lacks an ideal ending wrap-up, but it does remain interesting, if only for the contrast between the on-set footage and the finished movie, enhanced by CGI and other trickery.
Dr. Freex, 9/13/2006