Monday, March 25, 2013

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Silent Hill (2006)


Directed by Christophe Gans
Written by Roger Avary
Cinematography by Dan Laustsen


I used to play video games like Silent Hill. There was an occasion that I had the time to play those types of immersive video games. I even managed to make it to the end of a handful of them if I had a really good cheat sheet by my side. Usually I would get bored by the time I hit level 1,150 and end up putting the game on the shelf to collect dust. On the rare occasions when I did make it to the finish line, I was usually treated to some CGI cinematic telling me why I had spent a few hundred hours working on that particular quest. Sometimes the explanation was a bit murky, didn’t explain much of anything, and was just setting me up for the inevitable sequel in the hopes that I’d run down to the video game store, part with my hard earned dollars, and do it all over again.

That seems like eons ago. Games have become way more sophisticated, graphics have advanced to the point where that the line between CGI and reality has become blurred, while game companies have discovered that a lot of their clientele will go along with just about anything to get their hands on the new shiny “Let’s shoot the crap out of everybody” video game and sell you all the downloadable overpriced micro transaction crap that we can, Sucker!

The only real video game I’ve spent much time with in the past five or six years has been The Sims. And after pretty much leaving it on the shelf for two years because of the price-gouging, shoddy quality control business practices of 2012 Worst Company in America, Electronic Arts, I’ve only recently begun having another go at it now that those overpriced stuff and expansion packs can be had for half of their SRP if you just wait a week or two. Yes, lesson learned.

But we’ll leave my gaming complaints for now and save my treatise on how video game companies have made screwing over customers their priority number one for another day. The fact is that way too many gamers  have extended an open arms policy to allow themselves to get screwed over and share much of the blame for bad business practices, will be left for that essay as well.  If in fact I do ever get to it.

Upon finishing many games, endings that were often murky or just plain idiotic, weren’t much of a reward for having put so much time into that particular form of entertainment. That also sums up how I feel about the film version of the once popular Silent Hill series.


It’s one long video game except that you don’t play you only watch, there’s a big video flash back at the end to explain everything, and then there’s an afterthought non-ending type finale tacked on just in case the producers were ever to get around to making Silent Hill The Movie Part II. And six years later they have done just that calling it Silent Hill II: Revelations.  Whether it actually reveals anything remains to be seen.

The film opens quickly and wastes no time in getting to the point. Sharon, (Jodelle Ferland) the adopted daughter of Rose and Christopher Da Silva, (Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean) has been having nightmares, sleepwalks, and the only thing she has to say about it is “Silent Hill.” Rose, being ever so clever, discovers that Silent Hill is a ghost town in West Virginia. (As often as West Virginia seems to pop up in these movies one would think they should start collecting royalties instead of taxes.)
After medications and psychiatry offer no relief along with the fact that Sharon is seeing fiery visions and childlike demons beneath a waterfall that her daughter may or may not take a Tarzan type dive off of, Rose decides to take the screwed up kid to the real Silent Hill just to see if she can find the answers that will help cure her somnambulism. I mean, isn’t that what any loving parent would do for their child? Personally, I’d take my chances with the highway traffic and the cliffs every night. May the odds be forever in your favor.

But we do eventually find out that the reason Silent Hill is a ghost town is because there have been coal fires burning underneath for about thirty years. Or maybe it’s polluted because West Virginia has never been one of those states where air quality is far from being utmost on their agenda.  They have that whole coal thing going on don’t you know.  You reap what you sow.
Just outside of Silent Hill Rose gasses up her car and meets police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), who is also wearing the funkiest leather cop uniform since Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. I thought for a moment she was just moonlighting from her job at the local strip show but no, she is just a cop.

Rose heads up the road with her daughter, is stopped by Bennett because inquiring policewomen who wear tight buttock hugging leather pants want to know why a mother is out hauling her daughter into a ghost town in the middle of the night, especially when the roads leading into the town have been blocked off for ages. Undeterred, Rose hops into her car then rams the gate blocking the road while Officer tight pants, uh I mean Bennett, gives chase. It is then that a shadowy figure of a young girl darts across the road causing Rose to spin out, wreck, hit her head, and lose consciousness.

When she awakens her daughter is missing (who would have guessed?) and thus begins our long seemingly never ending journey. Rose immediately knows she’s not in Kansas anymore and so do we. The town is covered in a dense smoky fog (Surprise! Just like the video game!) with falling ash that looks like it was left over from Mt. St. Helens. Harry Randall Truman could tell you all about that, if he wasn’t just a whole lot dead due to his insistence on having a front row seat when Helen blew her stack. Harry had a choice, his 16 cats? Not so much. Adios, amigos. Goodbye kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitt kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty. 
Rose chases creepy figures running in and out of the alleys and buildings. One of these is a young girl the same age as her daughter (surprise, surprise again!). Gans keeps the little monster sufficiently in the dark so we can never really tell if it’s Sharon, somebody else, or some ten year old selling girl scout cookies.

Rose is sort of and sort of not attacked by some glow in the dark critters that might remind you of naked Jawas with claws. I say this because we’re never really sure if any of these events are actually happening, and what happens to the Jawas does nothing to dispel that notion.

At one point Rose retraces her steps back to the entrance of the town, only to find out that the road leads to a dead end.

Rose eventually hooks back up with Officer Cybil who for some inexplicable reason (meaning this is one of those mysterious things that happen where in the end you supply your own explanation because you’re not going to get one) doesn’t show up until about fifteen or twenty minutes later and promptly handcuffs Rose to haul her back to the county jail. Or something along those lines.
It goes without saying that these two aren’t headed anywhere out of town for a while since a crater that would give the Grand Canyon a run for their money has appeared and blocks their escape route.

Meanwhile, over in the normal dimension where you and I reside, hubby Chris who was left behind so that he could dig around and gather up some useless clues for himself and us, explores Silent Hill with the police who besides looking for Rose and Sharon, would also like to know what happened to their favorite patrol woman in tight leather pants.

We know right away that their quest is going to fail because unlike the world inhabited by the three ladies, and despite having found Rose’s car, there is no falling ash and no smoky fog blanketing Silent Hill, only a constant driving rain storm, thus confusing us even further from having any hope at all for a rational explanation for this mess. Mystifying, isn’t it?  Excuse me while I stifle a rather big yawn.

“You have no idea what’s going on,” Rose tells Officer Cybil at one point. Well, welcome to the club Miss Leather Pants. Ya got any more deep insights for us, Rose.
I have to admit that initially I found the film somewhat creepy. Director Christophe Gans does a good job of setting the atmosphere with some great help by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, some good special effects, not to mention some nifty sound effects and editing. Creepy creatures appear and disappear, an air raid siren blasts away making things a bit tenser, a juke box plays for no reason, Rose walks around with nothing but a cigarette lighter to light her way and for a while each corner she turns fills you with a sense of dread until suddenly you realize that not unlike a video game where you have to sacrifice your life a few gazillion times to find the right clues and the perfect tool to help you with a narrow escape to make it to the end, Rose will somehow manage to find all that stuff and not sacrifice her life once. There’s no saves or reset button in movies as of yet.
There’s much but not very subtle religious symbolism in the film as well. A lighted crucifix shines distinctly in the background after Rose rescues Sharon from the cliffs. There’s a religious sign with a quote from Corinthians as our adventurous family finds their way to Silent Hill. Apparently someone has an angel fixation. 

Sharon draws creepy pictures with color pencils that are meaningless to anybody including her since she has no memory of having drawn them. She must be hell on wheels with Crayola Crayons.

Before we even get to Silent Hill, Gans and Laustsen often fill their backgrounds with Blinding White Light light giving even these scenes a dream like quality. Why? I don’t really know, but it is all kind of artsy fartsy and gave gamers something to debate for years.

Early in the movie before they depart on their not so incredible journey to Silent Hill, Rose and Sharon doze off under a tree. I think this could mean one of two things. Either it signified that everything that comes afterwards is a dream, or maybe it’s our cue to take a snooze ourselves. If it’s the latter, you should have no problem. If they are dreaming this mess, cue Bobby Ewing taking a shower.

Once it becomes apparent that we are here only to watch Rose attempt to find the light at the end of the video game tunnel and whatever take it or leave it explanation writer Roger Avary decides to give us, it won’t be long before you’ll be looking at your watch and wanting to yell at our dynamic duo to get on with it. By the time Rose and Cybil do, you’ll have sworn you were in the theater longer than it would take you to actually play the game even though the movie runs just a bit over two hours. Way too long for a film of this sort. Bring extra popcorn.

It's a shame too because both Mitchell and Holden give it their all and you keep wishing the movie itself was better than it is and that the story actually deserved the good effort the two ladies put into it. As for Jodelle Ferland, I can’t say I was disappointed to see her disappear once we get to the Silent Hill scenes.  Before that, she didn’t exactly exude charm anyway.

Eventually you’ll sort of find out what’s going on but even then I’m not sure you’ll understand it. It’s only a partial explanation as to what may or may not have once went on in Silent Hill, but does nothing to clear the mystery regarding most of the events. Maybe Gans thinks he’s Kubrick.  Maybe this movie is only for people who played the series.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Those who have played the game might just get it, but I’m not about to start playing Silent Hill when Eternal Darkness and my game cube haven’t been revved up in about seven years. Then again, I wouldn’t count on fans of the game to be able to give you an in depth analysis either.

I visited one message board shortly after I saw the film at the time of its original release. There were about seven or eight die hard Silent Hill fans dissecting the movie as if they were earning a PHD in Film Surgery 101. And lo and behold, there were also seven or eight different explanations which tells me they are just as clueless as the rest of us. And you know what that means. If I’m not only bored but clueless as well I have no choice but to bestow upon you my grade which for Silent Hill is a C-. And whether or not the sequel clears thinks up, well only time and my DVD player will tell.

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