Monday, 18 June 2012

Silent Hill

Back in the days of the Playstation 1, around the time I was finishing primary school, some friends stumbled upon a game that they described to me as the 'scariest thing ever'. Due, in large, to a highly uncooperative console I never got the chance to play that game in my school days. Now, 12 years later, I recently had the chance to see the cinematic adaptation, a visually impressive, yet overall sub-par horror film.

Silent Hill
Christophe Gans // 2006 // 15 // 125 mins

This is the story of Rose (Radha Mitchell) who, after her adoptive daughter experiences yet another dangerous bout of sleepwalking, decides to visit the place the little girl (Jodelle Ferland) screams about in her sleep; the town of Silent Hill. The journey to the town itself provides multiple complications as Rose sneaks her daughter away without the knowledge of her husband, speeds away from a cop, crashes her car after swerving to miss a girl in the road and after regaining consciousness, discovers her daughter is missing. True to form the town itself proves to be an eerily desolate place, evacuated years ago due to a coal fire burning underground, however it's not long before Rose encounters some of the towns inhabitants, small fiery creatures that surround and attack her.

This initial encounter sets the pace for the majority of the film as Rose roams round the town, encounters some monsters, and then roams around some more. As such the plot becomes fairly repetitive, intercut sequences of Rose's husband (Sean Bean) provide us with a backstory for the town as he unravels the mysterious connection between his daughter and Silent Hill, however it's nothing too intricate and has been done before much better. Some reviewers have described the film as similar to watching someone else play the game for two hours, and certainly, watching Rose move from location to location, following clues and evading nasties does result in a linear narrative, leaving little room for any kind of true character development in favour of moving on to the next bit of action.

Director Christophe Gans, excels instead in the films visual aspects, particularly in the realisation of the towns monstrous inhabitants. Viewers may find themselves eagerly awaiting the next ringing of the air raid siren that precedes the 'darkness' and the monsters it reveals, as opposed to actually wanting Rose to find her daughter and leave. The visual effects are stunning and every base is covered in terms of monstrous enemies for Rose to face, throughout her stay she bumps into distorted bodies, demonic creatures and even a stampede of flesh eating insects. While all of these are beautifully, and disturbingly, realised it is the figures of the ominous 'Pyramid Head' and the shudder-inducing 'Dark Nurses' that leave the greatest impact. The film also features a brilliant use of costuming, as Rose's single outfit shifts through a series of subtle colour changes to suit the mood, and some stunning sets, in particular the mysteriously snowy town itself and the homemade ladder torture device that precedes the films dramatic climax.

This climax is the films weakest point, as with the introduction of more and more characters and plot points the film loses the genuinely frightening impact built up throughout Rose's earlier lone ventures through the town, instead becoming somewhat ridiculous. Unfortunately some good performances can't save this climax from feeling like a disappointment, and while it's anti-religious statement is something intriguing, it becomes hidden under a criminal overuse of digital effects in what is clearly supposed to be an awe-inducing finale.

In contrast, the closing sequence of the girls' return to their home is beautiful in its simplicity and indicates a more personal character driven piece that, if fully realised, could have saved the film from becoming a purely visual experience.

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