Saturday, September 15, 2012

Silent Hill (Film Review)

Silent Hill is one of those films that is much more than the sum of its parts. Which is a good thing, for some of the parts are admittedly a little clunky. The film has some powerful elements, which, along with an elaborate market campaign at the time of its release, helped it become an icon of horror.

The film opens up abruptly with parents in panic, chasing after their daughter, Sharon (played by Jodelle Ferland ), who stands in some sort of trance above a rather intimidating precipice. The mother, Rose (Radha Mitchell ), catches her before the girl can fall into said precipice, only to hear her shout out “Silent Hill!” repeatedly, like some sort of seizure.

It... doesn't sound good in writing, and it feels even more awkward on the screen. But, the parents reactions to this odd (and convenient) seizure-speak quiets the audience with a cold, “she said it again”, “I know. I heard.”

The film's logic breaks down in the introduction to Silent Hill-- after the trance/seizure, Rose decides enough is enough and decides if the child keeps shouting Silent Hill, well, then the best form of therapy must be to haul her butt to this aforementioned place. The explanation is thinly patched up by Rose's observations that Sharon may have been adopted from the town, but her determination for this road trip seems to just come out of nowhere, especially since the character seems otherwise rational and calm.

She leaves her husband behind-- presumably because she knows he is against the idea even before bringing it up to him-- and takes off to the evil town. After finding out where she is headed through her internet history-- seriously, Rose, if you knew he was against the idea why did you leave such obvious clues?-- and proceeds to cut off her access to their bank cards in the hopes of stopping her.

This leaves her almost trapped in a creepy gas station-- which, as a location, I am beginning to think, is an absolute necessity in a horror movie-- with an equally creepy female cop, Cybil (played by Laurie Holden , who horror fans might recognize from her later work on The Walking Dead). This police officer's motives are very strange, as she creeps around and essentially stalks Rose and Sharon. It is not made clear why she is so interested in the mother and daughter. Has Christopher (Rose's husband, played by the always delightful Sean Bean ) placed a warrant out for her arrest? If so, why? The two seem like a normal couple, and sure, taking off with their daughter might be rather abrupt, but the two otherwise do not seem unloving toward each other.

At any rate, for whatever reason, the film just decides that this cop hates Rose's face.

So, Rose takes off as the cop writes down her license plate, and the movie plods a bit forward. We then get the absolute worst, and most forced, movie logic I've seen in awhile (well, the movie The Tenant notwithstanding): Rose gets pulled over by Cybil, for... whatever reason (maybe her tail-light is out?) and just as Cybil is about to meet her at the window, Rose proceeds to... fucking gun it. Now, this comes at about the same time in most films there would be a knock on the window, and the character attempts to be as innocent as possible, “is there a problem officer?” Nope, not Rose, she isn't having any of that shit, she just takes the fuck off out of there. It is absolutely baffling why Rose comes to the conclusion this is a good idea. Her husband obviously isn't going to press any charges and only wants her back, if it is indeed him that is the reason Cybil is pursuing them. If not, then Cybil probably just wants to tell her that she has a busted light, ten minute stop and then she can proceed safely to Silent Hill.
Nope. Guns it.

And of course, like in real life, hauling ass away from the law doesn't end well. She crashes through a gate to get to Silent Hill, and then almost runs over a little girl on the road. In dodging said little girl, she fish-tails, crashes, and... blacks out.

This is where the movie stops being absolute horse-crap and actually gets started. Let it be said that I was worried the first time I saw this film. The opening is filled with awkward lines, unmotivated behaviour, and just downright lacking in logic. There are perhaps missing scenes that explain everything that baffled me, but as it stands, I just... wash my hands of the first bit of the film described above. Let's just pretend that part doesn't exist, shall we?

"Excuse me, kind strannngger,
can you give me a hand?"
The rest of the film has Rose chasing after Sharon, while catching glimpses of her daughter's evil doppelganger, Alessa. At the same time, Christopher is chasing after the both of them, fearing the worst after learning she is headed to a town that literally still burns underneath its baron surface, after a coal accident many years ago. Rose encounters many obstacles to getting to Sharon, including the iconic Red Pyramid, who is played absolutely wonderfully by Roberto Campanella . This is where the film truly shines, as Christophe Gans went through obvious trouble to get these monsters to look and move in the creepiest fashion he could. It is a testament that some of the best performances in this film involve just how well the creatures move-- the choreography in the film is absolutely breathtaking.

After encountering these tortured souls, Rose learns that Sharon is actually Alessa, a child of... less than stellar history. We learn that her real mother is the tortured Dahlia, Deborah Kara Unger , who we meet basically crawling on the ground, looking like a broken hobo. Deborah Unger's performance here is probably just behind the choreography in my esteem in this film. She plays the broken, twisted Dahlia extremely well, and each frame with her oozes with torture birthed by the love she felt for her daughter.

Shortly after meeting Dahlia, we meet a group of religious zealots who just about think they got this weird world of Silent Hill figured out. And to a certain degree, they do-- at least when it comes to the creatures that roam it, and when they will strike. However, they feel that sacrifices are necessary to keep the dark gods of the town at peace.

Instead of seeing the obvious, which was that the dark gods just love tearing things to shreds.

The final scenes involving this group were absolutely delightful in their carnage-- think Hellraiser with a bit more spectacle. But I've probably said too much already.

"Mommy, can I borrow your intestines?"
The film still has its awkward moments even after the beginning. For example, although an extremely sympathetic character, Christopher's storyline feels very tacked on. It serves its purpose-- namely, to further emphasize how separated poor Rose is from reality-- but in never interacting with the nightmare Rose, Cybil, and Sharon/Alessa encounter, it also, sadly, separates it a bit from being pertinent.

However, I find that Sean Bean carries this extraneous character rather well, which makes it hard to say that it should have been cut.

All in all, Silent Hill is a strong package, and I'm both excited and terrified at the oncoming approach of its sequel. Excited to return to this wonderfully dark town, with creeps and creatures ready at every corner to eviscerate anything that comes their way, and also terrified that the second film does not capture the same magic that Christophe Gans managed to capture-- most notably with the way the creatures look and behave.

But, in speaking of the first Silent Hill, I give the film an 90%. What points I dock are due to the extremely illogical beginning, but the fact that I do not knock off many points speaks to how the poor introduction does not serve to mar the experience as a whole, which remains one of my favourite and most iconic places to visit.

Now, if only they can get the games to return to such wonderful, dark realms...

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