Silent Hill (Christophe Gans, 2006)
Not without some fundamental flaws, Silent Hill does succeed, as an adaptation of a popular video game series in how it essentially functions as a reel; a funhouse-structured narrative showcasing all the best visuals from the games’ eerie and gory mythology, and doing so quite effectively. As a (horror) film, however, it’s mostly wholly nonsensical, rife with hollow, stiff characters penned by Roger Avary, worse performances and a baffling video game logic that, while amusing, doesn’t make for a coherent narrative in the least. Furthermore, while essential to the visual mission of the adaptation, the series’ monsters (from Triangle face to the buxom faceless nurses) are completely stripped of their in-game context. Piled on top of everything else (death cults! witches! parallel hell worlds!), it results in one of the most convoluted mythologies I’ve encountered in a long time. It makes very little sense unless complemented by knowledge that only the hardened gamer, with considerable knowledge of the 4 games this film is based on, can bring to the viewing experience. For the common viewer, the aesthetic results are magnanimous, but it becomes images without much context — eerie and scary without much resonance.
The experience becomes quite tedious in the same way that removing agency from a video game player is bound to be. From its cut scene-like set pieces, its impossibly stock characters, its mysteriously appearing objects driving the game’s plot forward and overbearing moments of exposition, Silent Hill is essentially a 2h video game without the satisfaction of gameplay or questing. One merely observes, and while there are many things to look at, it cannot be enough. Conversely, Gans makes a conscious effort to replicate video game imagery visually through platform-style mise-en-scène or careful overhead crane shots. It’s effective, never too obvious and helps to digest the blatant CGI, simultaneously highlighting the atmosphere, great sets and obstacles the protagonists face — the film’s true redeeming qualities and what makes it stand slightly above the average video game adaptation.
There is also something interesting buried deep down in there about motherhood, the blood-deep links between mother and child and how that is superficially connected to witchcraft, but while one can see that Avary was aiming at something potentially deeper than expected in his screenplay (the final sequence, per example, finding mother and daughter unable to reconnect, literally with an estranged husband), it is ultimately diluted considerably by the problems discussed above.
Tonight: Silent Hill: Revelations 3D — for better or for worse.