Stories can trick you sometimes and movies are stories.
Sometimes a movie starts off just right and everything is cool, interesting, and promises excitement. The characters, good, bad, or indifferent, draw you in with their causes, their pain, or just their personalities.
None of that happens in SILENT HILL.
Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell: PITCH BLACK, PHONE BOOTH), bursts into her daughter's bedroom, calling her name. She runs out of the house, through a drainage tunnel, calling her daughter's name. She runs past the edge of a surprisingly tall and dangerous cliff, calling her daughter's name and finds her child, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland: Masters of Horror: THE V WORD) standing on the edge. When Sharon stares into the abyss, she doesn't see the turbulent waters below, she sees something else.
Okay, but then everything goes weird.
Of course, SILENT HILL, based on the wildly popular video game, is supposed to be weird. But for it to make some kind of sense, the weirdness has to be within the context of normal, and Sharon's adopted parents are far from that. Especially Mother Rose, who seems to be some kind of squirrel-ly kook and only gets worse. Sharon it seems, keeps having nightmares and Rose doesn't want her on her medication, which appears to help according to Sharon's doctors and Christopher. Without her meds, the nightmares get worse and Sharon goes off on nightly walks.
The child keeps screaming in her sleep about Silent Hill. Rose discovers that there is a town in another state called Silent Hill, and makes the leap that, out of all the things that could be called Silent Hill (Sharon never mentions it as a town), THAT must be the place Sharon is having nightmares about. Well, when your tiny child is having nightmares about something, the best thing to do is put them right in that nightmarish place, right? So without telling her husband she is leaving, she kidnaps her daughter to take her there.
To a strange ghost town Rose knows nothing about.
In another state.
All Alone and defenseless.
So her daughter can experience the presumed town of her nightmares and confront whatever traumatized her.
Hully Shit! I'll never complain about MY Mother again!
When Christopher returns from work and discovers his family gone, he calls Rose on her cell, but Rose refuses to come back. When Rose stops at a roadside diner and gas station, a passing motorcycle cop (Laurie Holden: THE MIST) notices little Sharon freaking out. The cop checks the license plate as the Mother and adopted daughter drive away and finds that Rose is a kidnapper. The chase is on.
Rose tries to elude the cop, speeding on a slippery wet mountain road, scaring the living crap out of Sharon, who understandably screams in terror all the while. So far we have no love for the borderline insane Rose and it's pretty easy to see why Sharon is having these damn nightmares.
As Rose drives the high-speed SUV through the woods, she decides to NOT watch the twisty mountain road and instead, focus her attention on her daughter - while driving at high speed on wet cliffside pavement - to assure Sharon that, just as soon as we get you to the Abandoned Ghost Town that Gives You Nightmares, everything will be fine!
This news makes Sharon cry even louder and Rose finally looks up in time to narrowly miss hitting a pedestrian, crashes the SUV, and it's lights out.
As a character, Rose is the central villain and I really hate her at this point. Unfortunately, Rose survives the crash, but finds her daughter gone.
Rose gets out of her SUV to find herself in a place grey from air pollution, where you can only see a few yards in any direction, and ash continuously floats down from the sky like snow. Her vehicle, which should be wrapped around something stands alone on the road. As Rose walks around the town of Silent Hill, we come to understand that she might be dead.
We want to see her suffer by this point and she does. Catching glimpses in the distance of a child that could be Sharon, Rose spends a great deal of time walking, running around and shouting "Sharon!"
As the movie progresses, we see all kinds of weird and disturbing sights. Nothing really scary, but everything that leads me to think that, by golly something REALLY scary is about to happen.
It never does. Director Christophe Gans imagined a beautifully nightmarish world, thanks to the Konami game that he adored. He filled it with creepy and dangerous varmints from the game (which is a lot more than I can say for Paul W.S. Anderson and what he did for RESIDENT EVIL), but he never actually brought the scares. He later said that he regretted not creating "fear effects". What did he mean by that?
"door closing with high sounds"*
I can't deny that Gans had some excellent visuals with SILENT HILL, but he also had to work off a script by Roger Avary. Roger started out with Quentin Tarantino. But while Quentin continued to write great scripts after he and Roger parted, Avary wrote stuff like The Rules Of Attraction and BEOWULF.
Avary, like Gans, cannot write characters as people. They can create characters as icons, and that's what we have here.
We have the child in danger: there is no more to her than that.
We have the psycho Mom who abusively puts her child in danger, then spends the rest of the movie running around trying to save her, and that's as far as that character is developed.
We have the husband father trying to find/save his wife and daughter, and it stops there.
We have the cop who is a cop and a sadistic religious kook (Alice Krige: GHOST STORY, SLEEPWALKERS, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT - typecast) as same. It's not that there is a little character development. There is ZERO character development for the main characters. The tertiary character of Officer Thomas Gucci (Kim Coates: THE AMITYVILLE CURSE, INNOCENT BLOOD, XCHANGE, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, THE ISLAND), has the most developed character in the bunch, but only so he can go all Exposition Boy, halfway through the film.
It's sad to think about how great this movie could have been if only Avary didn't write it and Gans didn't direct it.
Production Designer Carol Spier (SCANNERS, VIDEODROME, THE FLY , DEAD RINGERS, MIMIC, eXistenZ, DRACULA 2000, BLADE II, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) really outdid herself. She created an entire "set" town (from parts of a real town) and interiors that are nothing short of stunning. This is one person who is REALLY overdue for an Oscar (in her homeland of Canada, she has won numerous Genies - the Canadian stature of an Oscar.).Set Decorator, Peter P. Nicolakakos (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, eXistenZ, DRACULA 2000, BLADE II, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) enabled Carol Spier's visions with his incredible attention to the most minute detail. These two David Cronenberg, Guillermo del Toro, and John Carpenter alumni and their sets in SILENT HILL tell far more of the story than anything done by Gans and Avary. Peter also created the creatures along with Clive Barker alumni...
Creature Designer Paul Jones (HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, NIGHTBREED, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, GINGER SNAPS, DRACULA 2000, WOLF GIRL, WRONG TURN, RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE, THE PLAGUE) along with his creature actors completed everything Gans and Avary could possibly want as a universe for their movie.
Gans and Avary blew it. They blew it due to a lack of understanding of what scares an audience. They didn't get it during writing, filming, or editing, and subsequent interviews show they still don't get it now.
At the same time it's hard to put them down. SILENT HILL is a failure as a movie, but it is a beautiful failure.
Very few directors put so much love and care into their Horror Thriller movies, even the ones who make great Horror Thriller movies. And you don't put this much time and imagination into a movie just to make crap. In no way, shape or form did Gans try to whip out a rush job, cheat, go cheap, cut corners, or patronize his audience. But from Avary's story to Gans telling of the story, their magnificent vision overwhelmed their abilities.
The sets and creatures had far more scope than Avary's script could handle; far greater depth than Gans knew how to use. Gans and Avary were working with people who cut their teeth on the demands of early Cronenberg del Toro, and Clive Barker movies. There the dark convolutions and corridors of the human psyche are primary.
The chilling sets of SILENT HILL demanded a deeper, more involved, more character driven story. The imaginative creature designs and effects demanded a scarier movie. Christophe's creative team didn't fail him, he failed them.
Had I had been in Gans shoes and realized how badly I'd derailed, I think I might have gone somewhere and cried.
Two Shriek Girls.
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