johnlink re-ranks SILENT HILL (2006)

I last watched SILENT HILL way back on January 2nd, 2009. I know that because it was the very first ranking I did for a fledgling blog back when johnlinkmovies was in its infancy (I’ve ranked 560 movies between then and now). I really like SILENT HILL, and I know just how unlikely it was that they would make a good movie out of the one video game series I played with any regularity. I’ve been avoiding the sequel because I am sure it can’t possibly be good. But… just in case… I rented it. So, I needed to revisit the first one first. SOME LIGHT SPOILERS BELOW.

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I watched SILENT HILL (2006) on 8.8.13. It was my fourth viewing of the film and the first since the beginning of 2009. The original ranking can be found here. When revisiting movies, I make a conscious effort to not to let my original scores effect the current ranking in any way.

I certainly need to preface all of this with just how much I love the SILENT HILL franchise. I always found the video game series more cerebral than RESIDENT EVIL. I thought the violence and horror was much more psychological than visceral. When I heard a movie was coming, I was guardedly optimistic. There isn’t exactly a history of effective video game to movie screen translations.

But SILENT HILL really gets the tone so amazingly right. Director Christopher Gans is very clearly a fan of the games, The opening notes over the Tri-Star logo are iconic for anyone who is a fan of the series. One of the great choices of the film is to use only mixes of music from the games (with a Johnny Cash tune being the one exception). The feel of this movie is just so unbelievably right. It is hard for me to step back and wonder if those who know nothing about the game series feel the same way. Though, in being as objective as possible, I think the angles used to mimic the game play are wonderfully realized and lead to so many canted angles and askew visuals as to make for an interesting watch.

This is some weird stuff.  Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Chris (Sean Bean) have an adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) who sleepwalks and has nightmares about a place called Silent Hill. The West Virginia ghost town means nothing in particular to the family, so Rose takes Sharon there without the knowledge of her husband. After a strange encounter at a gas station in the middle of the night, a police officer, Cybil (Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden), attempts to stop Rose’s car. Rose takes off, breaking through the blockaded road and launching headlong into Silent Hill. Rose wipes her car out, Cybil wipes her police motorcycle out, and when they come to Sharon is gone. Then shit goes down.

There are three levels of reality in the film SILENT HILL. What each level really is, as well as what it represents, is open to interpretation. On the surface, it would appear that the husband is in our reality, Rose and Cybil are in a second semi-conscious reality, and when the sirens sound and the town shifts, then those in the semi-conscious reality are launched into the dreams of a girl named Alessa. It’s also possible that that middle layer of reality is created in the mind of Alessa when she is resting, and the dark world is what happens when she focuses. That is not one hundred percent clear. Symbolically, it could be that Chris is in our world, the middle ground is purgatory, and the dark world is hell. There seems to be some support for this with dialogue late in the movie. However, the fact that Rose and Cybil seemed to have disappeared from their real world (the cops don’t find any bodies at the wreckage) muddles this view. The fact that the male characters were added late in writing doesn’t help support any theory, but may help explain why the reading is so muddy. Like the games, the movie throws a whole bunch of counter-intuitive shit at you and then asks you to just deal with it.

The ability to deal with it or not is probably what draws the line between enjoying this film or not. I love the world created, so I can forgive a movie asking me to leave logic at the door. The experience of this movie is horrific. Reality clearly is not the focus here, and so I can go along with that. The fact that we are launched so obviously into an alternate reality so early helps make this work. Many people had a problem with INSIDIOUS as it descended into a strange dream world for the film’s climax. But SILENT HILL doesn’t save the worst for last. It does its craziest dance last, sure (and the final ‘battle’ may be the film’s weakest moment), but there is true scary stuff all throughout.

The script is definitely written in a way which plays like a video game. This clue leads you to this building, which leads you to this clue, which leads you to this room, which leads you to this map, which leads you to this boss. It’s slightly clunky, made only marginally better by a throw-away explanation in the late-movie reveal. Is the story weak? I can’t tell. For me it works, but others without ties to the game might be critical and I wouldn’t blame them. I understand that this may be for a small niche audience, and I am in that niche. I don’t think of it as an elitism thing, in fact I’m fairly certain that this is not high art, but I can’t deny that this movie just works for me.

The principal actors are all very effective. Laurie Holden, before her impressive turn as a series lead in The Walking Dead, is really impressive as a tough-on-the-outside cop. But it is Radha Mitchell, with the ferocity that made her so likable in PITCH BLACK and MAN ON FIRE, which really elevates this movie. A lesser actress would be eaten alive by the special effects and the monsters. She makes it believable. If not for some late movie character additions, this would get a much higher acting score.

SILENT HILL has plenty of ambition. It is visually impressive, it is scary, it is gruesome, it is relentless. It is batshit crazy in a way that may make it inaccessible for people because the film just doesn’t care about solidifying a reality at all. The first half of the movie is better than the second half (especially in terms of acting… the villagers aren’t good) but the second half certainly doesn’t turn down the intensity. I’m not ashamed to say, I just love this movie and it is one of the top horror movie of the 21st century along with CABIN IN THE WOODS.

SCORES

FILM: 7; MOVIE: 10; ACTING: 6; WRITING: 7; BONUS: 2

Two bonus points here. First, I just love the shit out of the music in this movie. It is haunting and powerful (again, probably connected to my love for the games). Second, the cinematography is spot on. They sometimes get cute and recreate shots from the game exactly. But this isn’t done in a campy way, and isn’t a case where you would be watching and think it was gimmicky. The camera just does a great job of always being in an interesting place.

7+10+6+7+2=32

FINAL SCORE: 8

The first ranking I did went 7,9,4,6,1 (with a bonus for music) for a final score of 6.75. So I think it is fair to say that I liked this movie even better the fourth time out.

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~ by johnlink00 on August 11, 2013.

5 Responses to “johnlink re-ranks SILENT HILL (2006)”

  1. […] been sitting on this movie for awhile. I recently documented my love for the first film, and I fully realize how miraculous it is that we got even one great SILENT HILL movie. I had major […]

  2. I wasn’t a huge fan of Silent Hill when I saw it in theaters so many years ago. It was notable for being the best video game adaptation in film thus far, but that really isn’t saying much (Super Mario Bros., anyone?). Anyway, while I’m still not enamored of the film, I agree that the sound design was awesome. In particular, the muffled noise when ash falls from the sky and those godforsaken air raid sirens haunted me for years afterward.

    • Yeah, I know a lot of people thought it was good not great; you certainly aren’t alone in that thinking. The tone just struck the right chord with me, and I won’t deny that I went in really WANTING to like it (which of course didn’t help the sequel in any way, that was terrible no matter how much I wanted to like it).

      • True, and although I haven’t seen it, I just know the sequel suffers from not having Sean Bean around. Anyway, glad there’s someone out there sticking up for film despite public opinion!

  3. […] SILENT HILL […]

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