There is nothing the matter, per se, with adapting video games into feature films, but in doing so the cinematic foundation should be sturdy enough to stand on its own. In other words, one shouldn't need to have played the game in order to appreciate, understand and enjoy the movie. Director Christophe Gans (2002's "Brotherhood of the Wolf") and screenwriter Roger Avary (2002's "The Rules of Attraction
") would have been wise to remember this simple conceit when they set out to make "Silent Hill," a gorgeously mounted horror picture that alternates between overexplaining things to a monotonous degree and not offering up enough information for all the pieces to cohesively interlock by the end. Gans and Avary go with a more classical approachgrand sets and production design, a preference toward thick atmosphere and dread over flash cuts and graphic violence, a deliberate pace designed to gradually draw the viewer into the storybut in doing so they have forgotten one key ingredient: a sense of fun. "Silent Hill" is not only a downer, but a rather aloof one at that.
The film has barely set up its protagonistsmarried couple Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Christopher (Sean Bean), and their young sleepwalking daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland)before zipping the two ladies off in search of a ghost town Sharon keeps dreaming about called Silent Hill. Following a car accident while trying to allude a nosey cop, Rose awakens at the entrance of the isolated community, seemingly deserted since a tragic fire outbreak thirty years before, to find Sharon nowhere in sight. With a heavy fog and a constant snow of ashes filtering the landscape, Rose immediately recognizes that the townas well as herself, her missing daughter, and police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden)is caught in some sort of time warp from the past. Circumstances only grow more dire when the Darkness arrives, unleashing a compendium of grotesque creatures, bugs and deadly nurses onto the town. With the city newly and mysteriously surrounded by cliffs and cut off from the rest of the world, there seems to be little hope for Rose's escape.
"Silent Hill" is not for lacking memorably nightmarish imagerythe very first appearance of one of the ghouls and a climactic moment where Rose must make her way past a group of monstrous, scalpel-wielding nurses without touching them are creepy high pointsbut the core of the film is missing a soul and a purpose. By learning virtually nothing about Rose's life before this ordeal, it is up to actress Radha Mitchell (2005's "Melinda and Melinda
") to inject her character with the sympathy and depth missing from the written page. While Mitchell doesn't always succeedno one could under these limiting circumstancesshe does come up with enough different ways of calling out Sharon's name so that it never become tedious. Unfortunately, the lack of palpable humanity and connection turns the film into a cold and mechanical exercise is rudimentary scare tactics.
As for the hole-ridden plot involving witchcraft and two overlapping planes of existence in Silent HillRose's hellish vision and also Christopher's, who comes searching for his familyit kinda-sorta works itself out by the long-winded third act, but then tacks on an unsatisfying last scene that forces you to second-guess what has come before and then get angry when you suspect director Christophe Gans has just been jerking you around for over two hours. It would have been one thing had the film been the unrelenting thrill ride the fantastic theatrical trailer promised, but "Silent Hill" never takes off enough to become truly enveloping. Instead, it's a frustrating series of starts and stops (depending on if the Darkness has arrived or is on a lunch break) with the promise of something special to come that never does.
The subplot involving Christopher's hunt for his wife and daughter also takes up an inordinate amount of time and could have been cut out completely, shaving thirty minutes off the extraneous 127-minute length and tightening the pace. Riddled with too much exposition and clunky dialogue that states the obvious"This room looks like it's been burned," Cybil says at one point, apparently forgetting that never-ending ash has been falling from the sky since they arrivedthe picture tries one's patience far more often than it unnerves it. The overuse of mediocre CGI over practical effects also alleviates the tension; it's difficult to become scared when so much of what is onscreen clearly isn't there with the actors.
That leaves the overall mood of the piece to try and pick up the slack. The cinematography by Dan Lausten (2003's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
") is sumptuous and bold, creating a handsome scope for the town of Silent Hill. The production design by Carol Spier (2005's "A History of Violence
") is genuinely eerie, more so than what fills the spaces in between. The score, blending original orchestrations by Jeff Danna (2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse
") with music from the video games by Akira Yamaoka, pulsates with off-kilter, brooding ingenuity. To state that the style of "Silent Hill" eclipses whatever substance it has would be an understatement. Indeed, when the film finally gets around to themes involving child abuse and religious hypocrisy, they are muddled by talkiness and drug out to needless lengths.
Superior by far to the insulting "Resident Evil
" film series, "Silent Hill" receives due points for being ambitious and, for the most part, creative, even if director Christophe Gans is never able to live up to his lofty aspirations. The shot compositions are pretty, to be sure, but they are at the service of a motion picture neither half as disturbing as it wants to be, nor as haunting as it thinks it is. The viewer sits there, waiting and then waiting some more for the horror elements to kick into high gear. When they don't, and the film culminates in a disquieting whimper that may or may not be setting itself up for a sequel, all that one is left with is a feeling of dull indifference.