Why You Should Watch: Silent Hill

Radha Mitchell in Silent Hill (2006)

An outsider is dumped into an insular and bizarre world and meets a number of the world’s eccentric inhabitants. Among these inhabitants is an outcast who is unfairly maligned for associating with the wrong person. All of them dream of escaping their conditions, but only one is willing to do what it takes to break through to another life. Although that’s the entire plot of Cats, that summary only scratches the surface (pun not-intended) of Silent Hill.

From IMDb: A woman, Rose, goes in search for her adopted daughter within the confines of a strange, desolate town called Silent Hill.

Video game movies are notoriously bad, and I don’t think this is always due to issues translating a great video game into a great movie. A lot of them involve studios deciding to do something different with established characters and story lines, immediately failing established fans of the video game with the ominous phrase “a loosely-based adaptation” that deviates far too much from the game. As a huge fan of the Resident Evil games, the films were a huge disappointment for this reason. I would imagine fans of Super Mario Bros. feel the same.

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Although how would you translate a Mario game to a film in a coherent and sincere way?

Other times, they are just utterly bland. They stay faithful to the game, but drain anything interesting from the games like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider.

Occasionally film adaptations get it right, and two notable examples in my opinion are Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill. Since this is a horror film blog, I won’t be discussing Mortal Kombat but one of my favorite Youtube channels GoodBadFlicks did an excellent video on the film if you are interested.

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I realize Paul W.S. Anderson directed both Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, but notably he did not write Mortal Kombat. And it shows.

Silent Hill is one of the best video game adaptations ever made. I realize that isn’t saying much. But it is clearly made by someone who loves the games and wanted to bring a faithful adaptation to the big screen. It changes things, but never so much that you feel cheated out of seeing a Silent Hill movie (unlike the mansion tease in Resident Evil which feels like a slap in the face to the video game franchise’s fans). It is almost worth it just to watch a summary of the game on Youtube or play a port of it before watching the film just to understand the lengths the creators went to in order to capture the tone and experience of such a psychologically disturbing and thematically complex game. Admittedly, one of the strengths of this source material is its strong story line and atmosphere, both of which were perfect for a film adaptation (unlike games like Moral Kombat which are incredibly fun but not well-suited for film).

Director Christophe Gans incorporated the video game series’ storylines, camera movements, settings, soundtracks, characters, antagonists, and in some cases even complete scenes in the film:

The easiest criticism of the Silent Hill movie is that it’s only great if you are a fan of the games. And I’m not going to lie. As a huge fan of the games, the movie is like a decadent fan-service treat served on a silver screen platter. It’s impossible to know what I would think of this movie without my love of the game factoring into it. But there are plenty of people who enjoy this film without a knowledge of the video games. The first time I saw this I was in college. A ton of my friends (I seriously think we went as a group of eight and filled half a row) went. About half of us were familiar with the video games of half of us weren’t. We were all basically speechless on the way home. Not easy to make a group of smart ass teenagers speechless after going to the movies. My wife loathes the disturbing monsters and disgusting sets, but even she acknowledges it is a genuinely interesting story.

I would be pretty surprised if a fan of the Silent Hill video games didn’t like the film. But what if you aren’t a fan of the video games? Why should you watch?

It’s interesting to see the conventions of a video game (progressive levels, villains, quest-like structure) taken and made to create a tense and consuming film. Even if you don’t play video games, you can appreciate the way game elements were successfully incorporated into the film.

The creatures in Silent Hill are incredibly creepy and upsetting. They used a lot of practical effects and dancers to create some of the unnatural and disturbing creatures. Unlike less atmospheric horror films that rely on a creature jumping out and only briefly being seen in order to be effective, the director in Silent Hill takes cues from Japanese horror. You are presented with things that are so visually upsetting, merely seeing them in front of you is the scare. Like the game, the film leaves you in the dark as to what’s going on, so you feel as clueless and frightened as the protagonist (another way the film replicates the game).

The film is sincere and emotionally wrought. It does some pretty shocking things, even by modern horror’s standards including a scene where a woman’s flesh is twisted off her body by a monster. It’s ending is equally shocking, making a profound statement about justice: at what point does the pursuit of justice make us just as evil as those we are seeking justice against? We all want to believe in a hero. We all want to root for “the good guy.” But Silent Hill tells a story that shows us morality is all just shades of gray till everyone is coated in blood.

The film presents you with two relatable characters. There’s the main character Rose, the mother who will do anything for her child and keeps the plot moving with her all-consuming desire to bring her daughter to safety. There’s also Officer Cybil Bennett, a character popped straight out of the video game who reacts like we would if suddenly trapped in the world of Silent Hill (at one point she seriously shouts “What the fuck?!” and if that doesn’t summarize Silent Hill I don’t know what does.

There’s a lot of interesting food for thought regarding morality, motherhood, and religion to unpack in this film. It is a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in films that make you think.

It’s a bunch of wild-ass spooky shit. And the plot pieces don’t all come together in a seamless, satisfying way. It’s like the Suspiria remake in that way. Both reward multiple viewings and heavy reflection, but Silent Hill is the popcorn movie to Suspiria‘s artistic cinematic experience. Or, like actress Deborah Kara Unger (who plays Dahlia) aptly states, Silent Hill is “like Alice in Wonderland meets Dante’s Inferno.”

Give this movie a shot when you want to watch something thoughtful and creepy on your own.

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