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SILENT HILL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, Tanya Allen, Alice Krige, Jodelle Ferland
Director: Christophe Gans
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: August 22, 2006

“To find your daughter, you must face the darkness of hell.”

Film **

After seeing last year’s big screen adaptation of the hit video game Doom, I started to see a certain level of hope for future film adaptations of the same source. Upon first seeing the trailer for Silent Hill, I perhaps had the highest expectations for any video-game movie yet. And after seeing, I was enthralled by several aspects of the movie, but left cold by more unfortunately.

Technically speaking, the film is a masterwork. I applaud the director, Christophe Gans, for incorporating many unique visual gimmicks to drive the creepy essence of the story. But it’s the creepy aspect that leads into my main complaint of the movie. The story is consistently creepy and not much else. To make matters worse, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The plot involves a worried mother named Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and concern for her young daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), following a series of intense nightmares.  In those nightmares, Sharon is heard uttering the words “Silent Hill”. Hoping to put a cease on these reoccurring nightmares, Rose intends to take her daughter to the very nearby town known as Silent Hill.

But things start to go awry once Rose finds herself in the town’s vicinity. During the night, she sees a young girl crossing her car’s path. The car swerves along the road after Rose tries to prevent an accident. She then awakes to find both her daughter has disappeared and that the town of Silent Hill is engulfed in a storm of snowflake-like ashes.

And thus begins this strange journey of a movie, as Rose searches every inch of Silent Hill to locate her missing daughter. Rose has some assistance in the form of female highway patrol cop Cybil (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Rose’s husband, Christopher (Sean Bean), who was dead set against her going to the town, searches for her whereabouts. His search for his wife and daughter only lead him to the authorities, who keep telling him to stop looking for them…because the town supposedly doesn’t exist.

Basically, the remainder of the movie is a slow descent into horrific madness as Rose not only learns the truth behind her daughter’s disappearance, but the truth about the town as well. Along the way, we are introduced to some creepy characters, including another woman (Deborah Kara Unger) looking for her missing daughter and an eerie schoolteacher-like figure (Alice Krige) who seems to be leading something of a cult in one of the town’s buildings.

Silent Hill also delivers on the gore factor at a high rate. The effects team has really done a fantastic job at creating some truly frightening spectacles. I can’t remember the last time I saw a giant creature rip a human’s skin tissue right off their body, and that image is definitely one which will stick in my mind when I think of this film.

And I will even mention a fantastically shot sequence, done complete in grainy and scratchy film stock which successfully adds to the effect. In this sequence, everything is revealed to the audience about the mystery surrounding the town and the significance of Rose’s daughter. And yet, I’m still left scratching my head because very little of what goes on Silent Hill makes any sense at all.

But there is a reason that I was unable to get into this movie where as so many others were. I was told that to fully understand the film, you would’ve had to play the video game, which I never did. According to gamers, this is one movie adaptation of a video game that GOT IT RIGHT. And all I can say is it’s a shame I never played it. After all, I played Doom quite frequently and I was more than pleased with its leap from game to film.

So in the end, Silent Hill is fantastic to look at and is a masterful assault on the senses. But the story is not gripping at any point and doesn’t even try to make sense. The whole way through, it just feels as if the story is simply making something significant out of nothing whatsoever.

But then again…maybe I need to play the game. Who knows?

Video ****

Sony’s video presentation is as breathtaking and as stunning as a DVD presentation can get. This is indeed a “visual” film if there ever was one, and the anamorphic presentation exceeds in bringing to life the many creepy and eccentrically filmed sequences. Though the town itself carries that of a grey-ish look to it, the picture remains extremely clear and scenes away from the town exude in tremendous detail and color. One heck of a video triumph!

Audio ****

This is for certain one of the most dynamic and furiously sounding discs I’ve experienced all year. The 5.1 mix accompanies everything from music playback (many of the music numbers are said to be directly from the game) to dialogue delivery. As Rose journeys deeper into Silent Hill, the more intense and assaulting the sound gets.

Features ***

There is essentially one basic feature on this Sony release, but it’s a darn good featurette, broken down into six parts and titled “Path of Darkness: Making Silent Hill”. Clocking in at just under an hour, the featurettes included are “Silent Hill Origins”, “Casting Silent Hill”, “Building Silent Hill”, “Stars and Stunts”,
“Creatures Unleashed” and Creature Choreography. Also included is a trailer gallery including trailers for the upcoming theatrical releases Ghost Rider and Casino Royale (can’t wait for either of those) and additional Sony DVD titles.

Summary:

Silent Hill is a visual blast and contains many memorable moments of nasty/gorish mayhem. Had I been able to understand any of it, and had the dialogue been a bit more coherent, we would’ve definitely had something here.

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