Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Silent Hill
directed by Christophe Gans
written by Roger Avary

I believe the word I'm looking for is daaaaaaaaaaaamn. And oddly, it goes both ways. Damn, this movie gets right in there and scares the bejeezus out of you...and damn, what a waste.
Christophe Gans' new horror film Silent Hill is another push to the envelope of what can be shown onscreen, both from a visual standpoint and from the perspective of just out and out mayhem and violence.
But...there are points where it doesn't work. When it doesn't, you just slap your forehead and wonder what Roger Avary was doing that day when he was supposedly writing. But when it does, and it fires on all cylinders, this is not only one of the more unique looking creepshows out there, it's also one of the most effective.
I saw the film with a bad audience. A rarity for the Arena Grand, but still a possibility. And, after a few touch and go minutes at the beginning, they got shut up. Not by theater staff. No, sir. By the movie.
The first big scare got two of the group to scream in fright. The other two were freaked the fuck out and they fled, never to return. Sure, they talked through the entire movie, but they were quiet except when they were screaming their asses off.
That worked just fine for me.
Radha Mitchell (you might remember her from Pitch Black or Phone Booth) really has to carry the movie. Sean Bean (still in the running for Greatest Geek Actor of All Time) plays her husband Christopher. But, the two of them pursue their investigations of the town of Silent Hill more or less on parallel paths. They get one or two scenes together to show off the fact that they're married and that they both love their adopted kid, and for the rest of the movie, they're apart. Sort of an odd choice, but I believe the video game is about lone heroines confronting ancient evil, so the married couple can't be together. If there weren't a phone message from Christopher about how much he loves the child, you'd start to think that he didn't care, and that's why he didn't go.
Mitchell plays Rose DaSilva, an Ohio housewife and mother to a child (Jodelle Ferland) who's having problems. She has nightmares and sleepwalks, and often ends up waking up screaming the words "Silent Hill" over and over again.
Mom's done her research (isn't Google great?) and found a town called Silent Hill in West Virginia. A ghost town. Complete with a disturbing and tragic past that culminated in a gigantic coal mine fire 30 years ago that wiped out most of the town. The problem? Sarah was adopted from an orphanage in West Virginia. An orphanage very near Silent Hill.
Rose puts two and two together and knows something is terribly wrong. And all the answers lie in Silent Hill. Problem: if Sarah came from Silent Hill, she'd be almost as old as her adoptive parents, right? The town is DESERTED as far as she knows. She packs up her daughter and heads for West Virginia against Christopher's wishes. She's not being rational, and this is gonna bite her in the ass. Big time. Of course, she acts all freaky in front of a deputy, Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden from The X-Files) who follows her into the town.
Both end up crashing their vehicles in separate locations.
When Rose wakes up, Sharon is missing. Things get weird from there. Everything is sorta foggy, sorta smoky in Silent Hill. And there are horrible things coming out of the fog. Inhuman things. And, every once in a while, a siren wails. Everything goes dark. And then, the REALLY nasty things come out.
Meanwhile, Christopher drives down to West Virginia after his wife. He and a decent cop (veteran character actor Kim Coates) investigate Silent Hill on their own. It's the same town, but it's different. It's rainy where Rose's Silent Hill is foggy. It's deserted, and while Christopher feels his wife is there, they can find no trace of her.
The mystery is sorta compelling, and the horror segments truly are frightening. A funny thing happens about two thirds of the way through the movie, though. Everything stops. I mean LITERALLY stops. The movie grinds to a halt and everything goes white for a minute. Then, everything is explained. Back story. What's happened thus far. And what's GOING to happen. Yes, they explain the end of the movie. Before it happens.
We fade back into the film in progress, and then everything happens, exactly as it was explained it would.
Something tells me that this moment was cribbed from one of the Silent Hill games. But, where the same exposition might have worked in an interactive game (where you might not be able to fulfill said prophecy or where you might need crucial background information to solve a final puzzle), it falls flat on its face in a narrative motion picture. You can't give away the last third of a film and expect people to be satisfied when that's exactly what happens.
The only thing they didn't give away is the very final moment of the film, and by that time, you're so damn annoyed that they spoiled their own damn movie, you forget to care. And that's too bad, because that final moment, cribbed as it is from some other films, could have worked. If fails to resonate, though, because the storytellers failed the audience.
There's a lot of craft to Silent Hill, and a lot of interesting ideas. Avary and Gans tried to make something different from the normal Hollywood fare and remakes of J-horror. If they cut the momentum-stifling explanation of the town's history and the entire third act, the ending (and the movie itself) might have clicked. Instead, it just sorta fizzles.
As it stands, Silent Hill is an ambitious film. I give it credit for trying to do something new for the genre. But I'm upset that they couldn't make a cohesive, logical story and follow through on it.

No comments: