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A concerned mother brings her daughter to Silent Hill, a town she keeps mentioning while sleepwalking. When their car suddenly crashes, the mother sees her daughter is missing, and when she ventures deeper into the misty fog of Silent Hill, reality and perception disappear into dementia and horror. Through this threatening and constantly changing world of Silent Hill, she must find her daughter before they are trapped forever.
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If the terms Pyramid Head, Otherworld, and Alessa Gillespie don’t come to mind when looking at this review, this many not be the best horror flick to spend a couple hours on. This film is, however, filled with the icons, and if these terms are familiar, it is a wonderful video game adaptation worth the watch. Silent Hill is a rich franchise, starting from its Konami roots in the late 90’s. It gave new meaning to survival horror in video games, and many video game enthusiasts have waited long for a film adaptation they can get their hands on.
This movie can be considered a movie for gamers. To enjoy this film in its entirety requires you to have familiarity with its source material. Now, being an adaptation, this film did not succeed in re-interpreting the source material so that it creates an equally enjoyable experience. However, it by no means fails at being a good movie. The designs of the settings, creatures and characters are expertly crafted. In remaining faithful to the video game series, I congratulate the film’s creators in replicating the settings of the game series accurately and effectively. That being said, the plot is not the most straightforward, and the aspect of the occult undertones may seem off-putting to those not acquainted with the original series. The bottom line is, if you’ve played any of the games—better yet, if you’ve played them all—this is the night you rest your thumbs and let the game play itself.
Despite all the visual goodies and excellent design, the film certainly lacks in elements like character development and writing. The incomprehensive plot (unless with prior knowledge of the story) takes away from its enjoyment. Although with respectable actors (Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean among them) rounding the cast, the dialogue seems bland and unemotional, and starkly contrasts with the amazing visuals. It’s a pleasant privilege as well as unfortunate footnote to be familiar with the franchise; without previous knowledge, this film is confusing and jumbled and lacking in coherence. Silent Hill does a fine job in promoting the video game, but there are things even the best of these adaptations can’t do.
They usually suffer from an ailment called “originality.” Most adaptations wish to bring new elements to the table; use what’s given and play on it as an approach to successful filmmaking. Previous history has shown it’s quite the opposite. When you try to create something new out of something so well-known and well appreciated, it’s hard to up the ante. In fact, it can come off as distasteful or even disrespectful to its source material. Thankfully, Silent Hill does not sink to a Super Mario Bros. level of “originality.” For the most part it maintains the characters, except for a change in genders, and The Order’s origins as well as their role in Alessa’s manifestations of hate and evilness. Despite this, the film’s plot is frowned upon, and not surprisingly since the plot of the Silent Hill game series is also a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. Is this a telltale sign that the games’ plot lacks in substance as well? Absolutely not. It’s the rich storyline of the games that inspired this movie and what makes it such a successful franchise. Sometimes, the originality put into video game adaptations can go horribly awry or just miss to mark in the audience’s eyes. Unfortunate as this is, it rarely hits right on the spot.
I applaud Christopher Gans, the director, for this accomplishment—and it is an accomplishment—of a film. He actually called Akira Yamaoka, sound designer for the game series, to production to oversee its progress. He played the original Silent Hill on a Playstation 2 around cast and crew as to point out and discuss the style of filmmaking that would best fit the games. This type of dedication to the original work is respectable and interesting to see implemented. Often I find myself questioning whether filmmakers even glanced at the game when doing some adaptations, because sometimes they go so off-center and obscure it hardly becomes an adaptation; more of a mutilation of stolen content. His dedication has been panned more than praised, and it saddens me that academic film circles aren’t more aware of video games—as preposterous as it may seem—since I’m almost positive the reception for this film would be drastically different. His renditions of Pyramid Head and The Otherworld, as previously stated, are awing to the eye. The character elements he has pretty much sustained from the game, and the eerie creatures suffice even the most loyal of Silent Hill fans. The critics might not agree, but Gans did a favour for the video game community, and made an honest adaptation for gamers, by a gamer, and with the games in mind.
Horror-wise, it may start out creepy and mysterious, but once the game references come in the interest may decrease as they content gets more specific. If you’re looking for a decent horror film, you can try your chances with Silent Hill, but I wouldn’t guarantee anything. If you’re rebounding of a very terrible Super Mario Bros. or Double Dragon, this will lift your spirits tenfold. If you’ve just come off a ten hour Silent Hill gaming marathon and your thumbs are in need of a well deserved break, like I said, this is a great way to finish off the night (or early morning). If you’re faithful to the series, faithful to the game genre, and faithful to Konami’s legacy, you’re in for a treat. Nothing beats seeing a live-action Pyramid Head dragging that awesome butcher knife, reminding you of all those scares you got from playing that incredible game.