Review Date: August 19, 2006
Released by: Sony Pictures
Release date: 8/22/2006
Region 1, NTSC
Full Screen 1.33:1
“The one element you must remain true to, is the spirit of the material.” – Roger Avary, on adapting Silent Hill
Is it possible to make a faithful video game adaptation? Roger Ebert has hypothesized that the video game itself is something lacking in art and something that will not endure in the same way a Dickens or Fellini would. Button pushing adventures rely on a level of participation and a heightened form of involvement, where story is not as important as an establishing of a fictional world to explore. In that way it makes it tough to translate a game to narrative film fiction, since games are less about story than they are about exploring a fantastical universe. There have been several high profile video game adaptations, Mortal Kombat
and Uwe Boll’s crapsterpiece House of the Dead
for two, but few have ever really been taken seriously by either fans or critics.
With last year’s Silent Hill
there was great hope that the video game would finally be done right, given the credentials behind the camera. Written by the irreverent Roger Avary, responsible for the iconic Pulp Fiction
and The Rules of Attraction
, and directed by the genre-bending maestro behind Brotherhood of the Wolf
, it seemed as if Playstation players would finally have an arthouse success to tout the validity of video games as an art form. The reception, unfortunately, was overwhelmingly negative from the critics and only marginal from horror and video game fans. Avary’s script was the biggest casualty in the complaints lobbied towards the film, but could Hollywood’s prototypical Gen X slacker really have missed the game culture boat that badly?
Little Sharon DaSilvia (Jodelle Ferland
) can’t stop sleepwalking. Every dream she has brings her to this foggy, ash-strewn wasteland called Silent Hill
. Whether the dreams are some supernatural implantation in her subconscious, or just a way for her to cope with her parents’ failing marriage it is unclear. But Sharon continues to get further lost in her visions of Silent Hill, to the point where dream and reality loose their distinctions. Her mother, Rose (Radha Mitchell
), decides to up and leave with her daughter one night en route to this Silent Hill
. The road leading to it is hazed in uncertainty, but she’s determined to get to the bottom of Sharon’s dreams – and maybe just get the hell out of her life with Christopher (Sean Bean
Sharon and Rose crash upon Silent Hill
, which is covered in ash after a fire that parched the town several years ago. The entire town has a morbid history of witch burning and religious idolatry, kind of like The Wicker Man
if set in Transylvania. After Rose crashes, her daughter goes missing, and Rose must pillage the empty buildings to find clues for her daughter’s whereabouts. On the way she meets up with the ripped she-cop, Cybil (Laurie Holden
). Looking like Cecile de France in High Tension
¸ Cybil guides Rose through the increasingly confusing terrain of Silent Hill
As they explore, they find some hideous creatures, from a man with a pyramid head and a penchant for ripping flesh in one blow, to Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kerr Unger
), an ostracized witch who straddles the streets wheezing out ominous premonitions. As they venture further into the city they find what looks to be Sharon, but ends up being a duplicate named Alessa. Does Sharon have a long lost twin? Has she been swallowed into the world she always dreamt of? Or is there something much less sensible on display? Whatever the case, Rose must find her daughter and get out of Silent Hill
before her story becomes yet another that haunts the ominous town.
Immediately noticeable in the film are the insanely inventive creature designs, set pieces and wardrobe, brooding and poetic cinematography and a talented high brow cast. What is most laudable however, is Christophe Gans and Roger Avary’s bold and unique approach to storytelling. Silent Hill presents a new way of storytelling that fuses the tropes of video games with the voyeuristic medium of film. The narrative is hazy at best, which is what most perceived as a fault of the script. Really though, that haze is the quintessential component in adapting a game of such ominous magnitude. Silent Hill
¸the game, is a fog driven clusterfuck of bizarre revelations and macabre sights. A plot is there in the game, like there is one that underlines the similar Resident Evil
games, but the plot is only a convoluted backstory to give credibility to the insane new world those kind of survival horror video games rely upon. Some full motion video scenes would precede each level, but after that, it was an open world to discover, driven not by narrative but instead the gamer’s ability to explore. Hours upon hours could just be spend going down dark corridors or shooting zombies, no plot required. Avary realized the free roaming nature of video games, and managed to make it into a script that defies conventional narrative storytelling.
Avary’s script is such a departure from the usual plot-driven mechanics that viewers have come to expect of the film medium, which is why it has been under such contestation. Avary has never been an artist to settle for easy plot mechanics, with The Rules of Attraction
taking the memorable time-shifting of Pulp Fiction
into even more fragmented brilliance. He achieves something brilliant in Silent Hill
as well, in the way he allows his feminized cast to roam around a world without any clear storytelling path. The film, even as it ends, is always searching, always hazy, never breaking from that open-endedness that defines video games.
While Avary reaches some sort of high brow statement on the constructs of video games with his invisible plotting, he still keeps the film much in the spirit of the video games on which it is based. While games like Resident Evil
¸ House of the Dead
and of course Silent Hill
, all created these beautifully frightening and inventive worlds, they often skimped on dialogue and acting performance. The voice acting in the House of the Dead
games is cringeworthy, and the original Resident Evil
games are notorious for characters stating the blatantly obvious in completely deadpan demeanor. Avary lets that seep into his script too, having his characters, like Laurie Holden, dress up in completely over the top uniforms yet never stary from taking themselves 100% seriously. By the same regards, he gives his dialogue an obvious incompetence, tipping his hat to those laughable House of the Dead
sensibilities. When Radha Mitchell walks into a room that is charred to a crisp and perceptively notes “this appears to have been burned by a fire”, she is not doing it because of poor screenwriting, but instead because characters like her in likeminded video games have to operate with that obviousness to communicate plot in the game world.
There will never be a truer video adaptation than Avary’s Silent Hill
treatment, and Christophe Gans stays committed and true to Avary’s script in making the film a neverending visual exploration. Like Koyaanisqatsi
with zombies, Gans has made a film driven entirely by motiveless visuals, all beautiful and all eschewed from a conventional story. It takes someone with extreme confidence in the medium to remain true to Avary’s narrativeless approach to storytelling, but Gans commits and delivers one of the most atmospheric horror films on memory. The movie is all atmosphere, a video game where the world is so completely absorbing that you just walk around wanting to take in every unkempt visual design. Silent Hill
is the best video game adaptation yet, and also, as it turns out, one of the best horror films in a long time.
In an attempt to weed out piracy, Sony has elected only to send out full screen screeners of the film for review. As such, a review of the image quality would be pointless, especially considering the film thrives upon Gans’ atmospheric visuals. When a widescreen copy is obtained upon street date, a review of the image quality and new widescreen screen caps will be added.
This is a film that sounded amazing in theaters, and it sounds amazing on home theaters too. The sound design is as macabre as the visuals, with so many otherworldly sound designs coming out from all directions. As a film that relies on atmosphere, the soundtrack has to be there to provide it, and this Dolby Digital 5.1 track does in spades. The ripping of spleens, the crashing of cars and those manipulated fire-burning sounds at the end all come through crisp and crazy. Great stuff.
Although a big multi-disc release was planned, the resulting DVD comes only with a single behind-the-scenes featurette. Lucky for us though, the featurette runs an hour long and is split up into six different parts. The first is called “Origins”, where the actors talk about first reading the script and the producers talk about trying to keep the game true to the fans. Roger Avary even gets a little screen time as he describes how he and Cristophe were trying to “reinvent the wheel” in terms of adapting video games. Avary has some really perceptive comments to add, and even the producers seem incredibly well versed in the underlying intent of the film. The second bit is “Casting”, where Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Deborah Kara Unger all talk about well, themselves. The producers also talk about what they were going for for each character, and how they came upon the actors. “Set Design” has the actors and crew members talking about how the locations helped really set the tone for the film and for the performances within it. In a time where so many sets are CGI, it is refreshing to see so much effort put into all these wonderful sets, shown in full in plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.
The fourth part of the featurette is called “Stars and Stunts”, which delves into all the car crashes, punching, shooting and stabbing that had to be carefully coordinated throughout the film. The stunt coordinator gets a lot of talk time, but the extensive variety of on-set footage really shows how so many elements of movie magic were achieved. Seeing one of the characters lifted off the ground by her neck, and how they achieved it in the movies, shows just how inventive the industry can be. “Creatures Unleashed” shows how the monsters were physically constructed and how the actors behind the suits dealt with being inside these intricate pieces of body art. The effects were so grand in this film, so it’s no doubt this is the most interesting bit. The last part is “Creature Choreography” and it is more or less an extension of the previous part, where the actors talk about moving in the suits and how they were applied. When one sees the monsters in the movie it is tough to imagine they are real people, since their effects make them so far removed from reality. But in this final supplement, the actual actors behind the monsters show just how detailed a process being behind the suit can be.
The featurette is extensive and full of variety, giving a more than expansive look into the making of the film. It is little more than an extensive EPK, with everyone gushing over every aspect of the film, but it covers so much ground it still manages to entertain and inform. Twelve trailers for other Sony fare are included as well, including one for Lucky McKee’s The Woods, which still hasn’t been released.
is a groundbreaking movie in the way it does away with conventional narrative storytelling in favor of involving the viewer in a horrific world of exploration and discovery. Like a video game, the film overwhelms with atmosphere, creating scares instead of making sense. While the video quality of this new release cannot be graded until Sony sends out a widescreen copy for review, they’ve done a fine job with the sound and with the hour-long featurette that make-up this disc. Silent Hill
is not a film for everyone, but if you appreciate the open mechanics of a video game, or just like good, brooding horror, then you are bound to be swept up in this scary spectacle. Just don't get the Full Screen version.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - N/A
Sound - A-
Supplements - B
- Running time - 2 hours 5 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Subtitles
- "Paths of Darkness: The Making of Silent Hill" 6-part featurette