Sunday, April 23, 2006

Oh well. Silent Hill sucked. Life goes on.

If there was any video game-based movie I feel I had a stake in, it was Silent Hill. I'm a devoted fan of the games, having played all four multiple times each. I don't think I've ever had as spine-chillingly memorable a time doing anything related to the horror genre as I've had playing those games. After the crushing disappointment of the Resident Evil movies, I had cautious optimism about Silent Hill. Early interviews with director Christophe Gans seemed to point to a guy passionate about the material and determined to do right by it.

Sadly, this movie goes down as Just Another Failed Game Adaptation. If the best video game franchise can't even get a good movie made from it, I think Hollywood and video games should be kept away from each other for good, preferably by restraining order.

Gans may be passionate, but here he's done the impossible. He's taken Silent Hill — which is not only the most frightening horror video game ever made but quite possibly one of the most frightening horror entertainment experiences in any medium, games, books, or movies included — and made it boring. The video game is scary as hell. The movie has — I cannot stress this enough — not one single solitary scare, and indeed, a few of the intended scares come off as silly.

The movie has the look of the game down just fine. The production designers have replicated the game's foggy, deserted streets and dingy derelict buildings perfectly. But Roger Avery's script (and here was a guy who took great pains to warn fans he was not a huge devotee of the games) suddenly feels the urge to explain everything in exhaustive detail. So, instead of piling on suspense and scares, it piles on exposition. And I mean, piles it on. We get endless talky scenes of back-story and history, and yet the more the movie attempts to clarify the whole history of Alessa and the cult that victimized her and turned her into an evil malevolent force, the less coherent it all seems.

Gans's devotion to reproducing the game's visuals makes him forget that there will be a sizable audience who sees this without ever having played the game. And to them, no concessions are made. Non-fans of the Silent Hill games are given no clue as to why the town changes appearance, or why it's inhabited by poison-spitting faceless monsters and other weird beasties. To non-gamers this will be the most nonsensical movie ever, despite Avery's endless info-dumping dialogue.

But worse than info-dumping dialogue is Obvious Dialogue, where the writer assumes his audience is suffering from Downs Syndrome and must have everything spelled out no matter how obvious it is. In one scene, Cybill (the cop from game one, who has a much different fate here) has just found a drawing by Rose's missing daughter in a slot at the hotel desk.

Rose: "Where did you find this?" Cybill: "Room 111." Rose: "We have to go to Room 111!"

Well, duh.

Rose has her momentary lapses of intelligence, too. Early on, while Cybill is in the process of gunning down an advancing monster (one of the acid-spitters from game two, looking dead perfect, naturally), Rose runs off. Hmm. You're in a deserted town that you now know to be inhabited by weird monsters, and you run away from the one person with a weapon. Smart.

Then there are all the little moments of plot convenience. Rose finds a working flashlight in a drawer in the school. Rose's husband, played by Sean Bean in a thoroughly unnecessary subplot, is looking for the Silent Hill police archives in a neighboring town. They won't let him have them, so he breaks in to the office at night (shades of The Ring) and, lo and behold, there's the box he's looking for, right there on the top of the stack in the first room he enters. Why would they even have those? Because they're needed as a Plot Device, of course.

All of the exposition and clumsy plot contrivances simply pad the running time out to over two hours, while spending as little time as possible in the Otherworld for which the games are famous. Here's another failing I cannot stress enough: where the hell was Silent Hill in Silent Hill? Why are we listening to Alice Krige doing her endless Cruella DeVille routine when we should be trapped in terrifying dark corridors or fleeing monsters down misty back alleys? This stuff gets started just fine in act one, then stops when the script settles into a talk-fest.

Much from the video games appears in the movie to please fans, but only at the most superficial level. It's as if Gans pored over each game, saying, "Okay we'll use that, gotta have that creature, okay, and how about a Lisa Garland cameo!" But that's where the homage stops. The school? The hospital? Yeah, they're there, but wasted. Radha Mitchell literally runs through the hospital (which, for some reason, is about 200 stories underground) in the third act, until she encounters the nurses...who look great, in their prosthetic makeup, but move in such an absurd way I kept expecting them to break into a dance routine like some Janet Jackson video. And Pyramid Head? Jesus Henrietta Christ, how do you waste Pyramid Head!?! He has two scenes, does one cool thing where he grabs a woman and tears her skin off like a candy wrapper — then it's bye-bye. He's gone from the movie after that!

By the time we're well into the protracted act three, in which a mob of mad cultists is threatening to burn Rose's daughter alive, any resemblance between any of the Silent Hill games and this movie is purely coincidental. I saw a post from one guy on Rotten Tomatoes suggesting the filmmakers must have come down with ADHD and thought they were making a Hellraiser movie instead. Couldn't have put it better myself. The movie degenerates into one cheesy line of bad dialogue after another at this point. I just cannot listen to a mob of people (and where did this mob come from, anyway?) shouting "Burn the witch! Burn the witch!" without thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

I'm hurting. I'm angry. I'm bitter. The video game movie that should have been a masterpiece is just another disasterpiece. I don't know how everything that was so awesome in the game got so badly lost in translation. Is it too much to hope someone, someday, will do another Silent Hill movie that will nail the whole thing, not just the perfect set design? Maybe. I'm going to play the game again, to remind myself why I love Silent Hill in the first place.


udonman said...

what a vidoe game movie thaqt sucked not suprised the sad thing is there doing a hlo movie but at least its based on the halo novels hopefully it wont turn out like this tragedy

Cap Blackard said...

I feel your pain Martin, your description of the film hit it dead on. I practically grew up with Silent Hill and it was at the top of my adolescent wishlist of adaptations I would some day get to be responcible for so when I heard there was going to be a movie made I paniced. When I heard who was involved I chilled out a bit, beacuse, and especially with Avery who I trust(ed?) I believed in their ability to overcome hollywood and make the movie this game disserves. Hell, maybe they even wanted to, it sure looked alright, but it's almost as if there was some sort of extreme pressure to take the modern horror initiative and replicate the Ring as much as possible to cash in on its success - female lead, near identical re-imagnining of Alessa into what's-her-face-well-girl, etcetera, etcetera - a horrible, gut-wrenching shame. Were that the film was as amazing as the replica of the alley-way scene - I was pupmed then, only to be superbly let down. To comment on Udonman's comments I only have hope for Halo, last I heard Peter Jackson got hooked on it whilst filming Kong and bought the rights, one never knows, there may come a day, after all they've finally figured out how to make decent comic book movies every once and a while.


Terry said...

I thought exactly the same way on nearly every point. A friend of mine did a scathing review here: