Lessons learned: Never underestimate the creativity of a wronged West Virginian with access to barbed wire.
Rose (Radha Mitchell) has an adopted daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), with a sleepwalking problem. When awakened abruptly, Sharon mutters something about Silent Hill, a town in West Virginia not far from where Sharon was adopted. Against the better judgement of her husband (Sean Bean), Rose becomes obsessed with the idea that the town holds some secret to her daughter’s nightmares. Leaving her husband behind, Rose takes Sharon into West Virginia and finds the infamous Silent Hill, only to realize too late that she has made a terrible mistake: she was exactly right.
Silent Hill is based on the video game of the same title, but I’ve neither played the game nor seen it played, so my initial impressions of film were through the advertising and trailers just like many other folks. What drew my attention was the production design, the hints of horror strewn throughout, and Radha Mitchell’s genuine terror at what wasn’t a computer-generated effect. Better yet, there were hints of things too intense to show in any approved preview online, that and the creepy music that sounded like a twisted children’s story.
To those uninitiated in the multiverse of faith in horror films, here’s a primer; imagine that Heaven, Earth, and Hell all exist at the same time in the same place, just in a different dimension (like in Constantine or The Others). Something presumably supernatural has divided Silent Hill into two distinct parallel places: the real, abandoned town of Silent Hill and a Limbo-like fold where the living and dead exist too close together (for old tabletop gamers, can you say “Ravenloft”?) Periodically when an air raid siren alarms, a literal Darkness comes and turns Limbo over into Hell itself for a limited duration before it again recedes. For this reason, the characters in the film are very confused and so might the audience be; hopefully, this will clear up a little of the confusion. The real questions are, what caused it, what is maintaining the dimensional separation, why does the Darkness both come and go, and what does all of it have to do with Sharon? Heck, how did Rose and her daughter cross over to begin with?
The good news? It all works. From the quick start getting our characters introduced and into the proverbial frying pan to the layered ‘worlds’ that separate the characters even in the same location, Silent Hill follows an eerie kind of logic that refuses to break the rules once they are set, including the subtle yet just ending. Computer imagery is used only when it must be; grotesque makeup designs and contortionist actors created the creepy monsters to be live and in person. And the R rating? Director Christophe Gans revels in it like an evil little girl dancing gleefully in a shower of blood; whatever you think he won’t show, just wait and he will.
The bad news? The story seems a bit padded, with Sean Bean’s character essentially a plot device about the wages of sin and a certain set piece where the film grinds to a halt not once but twice. Still, the trade off of a little exposition and an almost too-convenient explanation for everything is a small price to pay for a horror-thriller that refuses to rely on loud noises and false scares. In fact, the one thing you can count on in Silent Hill is that if it looks nasty and able to come for you, you in fact should not wait around to give whatever it is the opportunity.
Watch and listen, because clues are everywhere. While the mystery of Silent Hill is the glue that ties the horror together, a love for the kinds of twisted evil plots about outcasts and sin is the guise it wears. Finally, if Silent Hill looks like the kind of film you’d probably enjoy, you most likely will and won’t much want to leave. And why should you? No one else ever does…
(a four skull recommendation out of four)