A piercing siren propagates from seemingly out of nowhere, the kind of sound that chills you to your core, as if it drags a certain and undeniable kind of soul-crushing dread in its wake. It’s omnipresent. The only thought that races through your mind when you hear this is the question: just how bad are things going to get? Oh, it’s going to be bad. A creeping darkness is the manifestation of that dread, bleeding out the light until there is nothing. Nothing still for a few more seconds. And as if by the flip of a switch, existence goes to hell.[p]As I sat in the theater and watched and listened to the first time the sirens of Silent Hill blared and ‘the darkness’ followed, I was no longer watching the movie. I had entered that magical realm that an audio-visual experience can transport you to. The Silent Hill games are able to accomplish this consistently, and the movie showed to me its intentions for the first time: that it wanted to reflect the true nature of the game. How many videogame-to-movie adaptations has there been that took most of their cues from the game instead of inventing their own for reasons of mass-audience benefit or ignorance or a plethora of other reasons? I can think of none until now. Christophe Gans, who last directed Brotherhood of the Wolf, almost takes a subservient approach, placing aside quite a bit of revisionist thought found in almost all of the videogame movies out there and paying respectful homage to Silent Hill by allowing much of the detail and atmospheric qualities to seep in to the project. Most important of all, he sticks closely to the form of the Silent Hill videogames.[p]If you think about it, games like a Mortal Kombat or a Tomb Raider seem to embody an abstract form that you can understand intuitively when you play. That is their essence or form or whatever you want to call it. Difficulty arises when you try to translate that essence to fit the underlying structure of another medium. Think of movies based off of books. Most people will defend to the death how much better the book is than the movie (mostly if they read the book first). Why is that the general line of thinking, that movies based off of books (and in our case, movies based off of games) do not live up to their counterparts? Each artistic/expressive medium has the innate property of being able to tell a story, invoke moods and feelings, entertain, and so forth. It’s just that they go about it different ways, which is analogous to–for example–a Mac and a PC for the more technologically inclined out there. Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider didn’t work well as movies adapted from videogames because they either had very little innate cinematic potential in their design, or the filmmakers couldn’t exploit or otherwise find a way to cinematically bring them to life while staying true to the essence of the game. What Gans has done for Silent Hill is stay true to form and bring it to life cinematically. A lot of this was contingent upon what he had to work with–a game series that already borrowed a lot from cinema and books. Thus, it is not necessarily too difficult in the right hands to transcribe this back into film, as the underlying structure is already flexible enough.[p]Having said all of that, this isn’t the perfect videogame movie, if by perfect you define it as being both true to the form of the game and having the kind of cinematic pull that makes it both a critical and commercial success. It has taken a somewhat warranted critical clubbing from the established film reviewers (last I checked, it had a 25% fresh rating at rottentomatoes.com), and it only took in about twenty million its opening week. Frankly, by staying true to Silent Hill, it can’t be ‘perfect’. If you have played the games, you know what I’m talking about. The subject matter is hard to swallow for the average joe and even the casual horror-film fan, though I could be wrong on the latter if the casual horror fan enjoys forays into the torture-horror presented by recent movies like Hostel and Wolf Creek. If so, then I’d say there’s a sufficient immunity to the kind of violence and atmosphere that Silent Hill brings, a welcome throw-back to the 80s kind of American horror (think Hellraiser and its ilk), with some J-horror mixed in as well (which the Silent Hill games helped pioneer if you ask me).[p]Gans and the screenwriters–of which includes the co-author of the Pulp Fiction screenplay, Roger Avery–have seemingly committed a grave sin in the minds of gamers by changing around details that seem to contradict what a game has already established. Though Silent Hill in the games has no precisely determinable location, in the movie it is established as being an uninhabited mining town located in West Virginia. Details from all of the games (1-3 mostly) are assimilated into the plot of the film. See, this would not fly if you’re making a Resident Evil movie, taking details throughout the games and mashing them up into one film. It works for Silent Hill because it stays true to the form in a sense, because if you think about all the Silent Hill games, they’re all about this tangled web of self-reference and causal anomalies, of containing a kind of guiding principle or ‘dream logic’ that is its own, which allows for the surreal to operate effectively. Anyway, the mining town flavoring works very well. It allows for the snow you see in Silent Hill 1 to become ash, helps justify the invading presence of metal and metal structures when the darkness envelops everything, etc.[p]The actual plot of the movie is based off of the first Silent Hill, with a few changes in details and characters. To summarize: Rose’s (Radha Mitchell) daughter Sharon has been having bouts of severe sleepwalking, approaching at one point the edge of a cliff, always mentioning a place called Silent Hill. Rose’s husband, Christopher (Sean Bean), believes medication is the cure. Rose however believes in some old fashion movie logic: take her there and see what happens. She does, against the wishes of Christopher, and what follows is similar to the intro of Silent Hill 1: a little girl in the road, a wreck, protagonist (a female here) wakes up to find her daughter missing, goes in search with the help of a female cop named Cybil. It goes on to address the massive town fire that destroyed half the town, like from the game, keeping quite a few of the same details. It also addresses the details about the persecution of Alessa and her resulting hatred, which is in the game but not too obvious. There’s a quite effective flashback sequence towards the end that has a gritty 8mm or video look to it that goes into details about this.[p]Remember, for those who have played the game, the part where Harry goes down the alleyway at the beginning? Gans lovingly recreates a few of the shots, like the camera that backtracks, and then up an alley wall, then out from the wall and titled sidewards a little as he turns the corner. This is the sign of a man who knows the game well, much more perceptive than simple references like Shang Tsung saying “you will die” from Mortal Kombat. In fact, the movie surprises in its perceptiveness towards the game: the foggy atmosphere of Silent Hill, the levels of reality, the movement of the camera, the hole in the wall of a hotel that the characters must jump through and across to the other building (Silent Hill 2), and even near the end that has Rose memorizing the floor plans of the hospital, which looks exactly like it was from the game. What’s even more awesome is the fact that at least fifty percent of the soundtrack is taken straight from the games.[p]Though I’ve been postive towards the film thus far, it is not without flaws in an objective sense. As hinted at earlier, there is some justification in the critical drubbing it received, which seems mostly due to the screenplay. The pacing is really good for the first hour of the movie and then it slows down to offer some exposition. Maybe it tries to be more coherent than it should, which, by the end, almost works against it. There are other things like the quality of the dialogue, the delivery of the dialogue and so on, but that shouldn’t get in your way too much. It seems that sense the movie takes itself seriously–you won’t find the kind of self-aware humor that is standard today for instance–it opens itself up for criticism. Anyway, I still would have liked to have seen David Lynch direct this movie: a movie about a videogame directed by a guy whose movies influenced the videogames.[p]Silent Hill is every bit as disturbing in movie form as it is in game. I believe Gans’ instincts about the nature of the games have paid off in this film, despite his interpretation and application of some of the details as well as omission of others. This is a must-see for any Silent Hill fan and horror-movie fan. This is not Uwe Boll. This is the kind of visual and auditory experience you’ve been hoping for outside of the games.
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