Friday, January 27, 2012

Spoon Fed A Lack Of Horror At Silent Hill

The Good: Moments of decent special effects, Possible psychological metaphor
The Bad: Lack of character development, Simplistic plot, Flat acting
The Basics: In this waste of even a rainy afternoon, two women explore the ruins of a haunted town looking for a little girl while the viewer gets bored.

One person with whom I discussed Silent Hill said that if they had not known it was based on a video game, they would not have guessed it by watching the movie. I, on the other hand, felt that there were parts that were too obviously like a video game, especially in the pacing and nonsensical way some things happened. Silent Hill was my attempt to follow my therapist's advice and break out of my routines and try something new. I never let trailers sell me on watching a movie. I research, I go with what I like, etc. I've never been much of a horror film fan, so when the trailers to Silent Hill intrigued me, I thought this was the opportunity for personal growth I was looking for. I let the trailer sell me. Perhaps the lesson here is that we make our routines because they are what feels good and works for us. Regardless, Silent Hill was largely a waste of time.

Opening with Rose, mother to a strange little girl Sharon, chasing her sleepwalking daughter to a strange cliff where Sharon is hallucinating and crying out Silent Hill, the Da Silva family is falling apart. Rose takes Sharon, without her husband Christopher, to Silent Hill, a creepy, otherworldly mining town in West Virginia. Rose and Sharon are in a car accident on the outskirts of Silent Hill and when Rose awakens, Sharon is gone and she finds herself in the ash-snow wasteland of Silent Hill.

Silent Hill, she soon discovers, is a haunted town where the fires of an old mining fire were never extinguished and the night is populated by tortured, malformed creatures whose bodies are made of the buildings they possess. Rose is accompanied by Officer Cybil Bennet, who once rescued a child from Silent Hill, but now finds herself in the hellish landscape that Rose and Sharon have fallen into. Together, Rose and Cybil hunt for Sharon as the environment morphs and evil rises and vengeance is expressed in various forms.

Sigh. Silent Hill is most like a video game of any movie I've yet seen in that it has very little plot to go on, so details are added, spoon-fed to the audience, when they are needed. Rose and Cybil are pursued at various points by creatures that they must either shoot, flee or cower from in a way that feels very much like a video game. So, for example, when the tortured janitor resurrects at night to chase the pair down a hallway, it feels like a point in a video game where a player must choose to evade rather than confront the monster. And, in the movie, this makes sense as the resources of the protagonists are severely limited.

So as to not be totally critical and negative right off the bat, there was some good in Silent Hill. The coolest moment of the movie is one of the most simple and that made it pleasant. At one point, Rose takes a knife, makes a point of putting it in her boot and progressing with it. She is finally armed. However, before she is able to use the knife, she loses it when she jumps between two buildings. That defiance of expectations is pretty cool.

The only other expectation of mine that was defied came from my impressions of the trailer. In the trailer, various creatures are seen without mouths, shrouded mutated characters that I supposed would lend the "silent" to the name Silent Hill. These creatures are present in Rose's very first encounter with the nightmarish landscape of Silent Hill. I thought it would be intensely creepy if there was no soundtrack marring their appearance. After all, there's something truly horrible about a beast that cannot make a sound as it tries to devour one without a mouth. When I saw the previews, I supposed this element of horror would be ruined by the addition of a soundtrack (simple music) playing through such a scene. My expectations were defied when the sound cut out during Rose's first encounter with the beasties.

Unfortunately, my expectations were also defied when the movie was not about these strange malformed creatures who one presumes are the remnants of those destroyed in the coal fire. Sadly, after Rose's first encounter with them, only one more shows up and then the player progresses to the next level, er, Rose and Cybil encounter more terrifying and powerful beasts until they make it to the final portion of the game and have to defeat the big evil. I mean, they make it to the portion of the movie where the viewer is told the plot.

At this point, it's hard to talk about the movie without it sounding stupid and the truth is, the reason it sounds stupid is because it is stupid. Rose and Cybil meet survivors in Silent Hill who tell them more of the backstory of the place, while Christopher searches for his wife with no luck. When Rose goes on her mission to find Sharon, she discovers a room where the force behind all of the evil in Silent Hill resides. And that force simply spells out everything Rose needs to know. We get the backstory, we find out the history and why what is happening is happening. And then it all gets resolved in a big, gory way.

One of the problems with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (reviewed here!) is that it is a dream where nothing is explained and the viewer must interpret it as they see fit, but in the end, nothing is explained. In Silent Hill, the problem is that everything is explained or made so obvious as to be dull. As most of the exposition comes all at once, largely after the viewer has stopped caring anyway, this is remarkably unsatisfying and somewhat insulting to the viewer.

Maybe Silent Hill would have worked better as a silent movie, where the viewer had to piece things together. That might have been clever.

Regardless of that, it wouldn't have stopped the actors from all being mostly terrible. Radha Mitchell leads the cast as Rose and the truth is she doesn't have the charisma to make us care enough about her fate. Whether the acting, which consists frequently of her cowering or screaming in the beginning and at the end, well, cowering and pretending to be strong, Mitchell never makes us care about Rose. And while the "mother is a god in the eyes of a child" is made explicit, we never see Rose that way and her motivation doesn't seem as compelling as it ought to.

The standout performance comes from Laurie Holden. At first. Holden is recognizable to fans of genre from her work on The X-Files. She enters the film as the tough-as-nails Officer Cybil Bennet and she does a decent job until she is forced to remove her helmet and jacket and appear more feminine. From that point forth, her character begins to take a severe downturn and Holden works hard to balance it, but it's a losing proposition.

Sadly, the moment Alice Krige appears on screen, one suspects that she is playing a character that is the true force of evil and as this is a movie where all the dots are connected, it does not take much for one to realize that they are correct.

Silent Hill is largely a waste of time, especially as a horror film goes. It's not entertaining and it's not particularly consistent in special effects, acting, pacing or at the basic level of maintaining viewer interest.

There is one aspect to the movie, though that I felt compelled to explore. It's quite possible that Silent Hill works as a psychological metaphor. There is certainly ample material. For example when you have two women cowering in a confined space with a heavy metal door that is being slashed apart by a giant with the most enormous blade ever seen on screen, it's not hard to view it as a potential psychological metaphor for women having a fear of the penis or the terror that some have with the breaking of the hymen. And there's the whole psychological interpretation to Sharon and Alessa's relationship as fractured good and evil, potentially a commentary on the human psyche. All of this is underdeveloped and it's a stretch to look at this cheap horror flick as an insightful commentary on human development. But, I think there's the potential to view the movie that way. I just don't have the patience or desire to sit through it again to make the developed case for it.

For other works featuring Alice Krige, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Star Trek: First Contact
Chariots Of Fire


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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