Much like the "Resident Evil" series, the "Silent Hill" games belong to the survival horror genre, in which the player takes the part of a hero or heroine fighting to stay alive amidst an onslaught of supernatural forces or horrible monsters. These games involve a lot of exploration, which is why I prefer the fighting ones. I'd rather punch something right then and there instead of spending an hour trying to find the right glove needed to do the punching.
The "survival horror" games also place more emphasis on engaging the player's mind and drawing him/her in with a dark, spooky atmosphere. This approach might be all well and good for someone playing an X-Box in the dead of night with the lights turned off, but on the big screen, the experience doesn't translate all that well. Silent Hill, the movie, consists of some truly creepy set pieces separated by looooong instances of the characters walking around and continuously spouting out such tired chestnuts of dialogue as "Something's wrong here!" or "What was that?"
Never having played any of the series of games on which Silent Hill is based, I can't say I was very excited to see the movie, nor can I give anyone who has played the games an estimation concerning how accurate the film is to its source material. I went into Silent Hill as objectively as possible, and by the time I trotted out of the theatre, my eyes loved the experience of looking at the movie while my brain was still trying to piece together what in the world I just saw.
Our story begins with Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell, last seen as the title character in Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda), a happily-married woman whose adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) is experiencing intense mental problems. Sharon's regular sleepwalks teeter her more closely toward death each time they occur, and she keeps mentioning a town called Silent Hill during such incidents. Taking an insane lapse in logic and not trusting the doctors to do their job, Rose feels the best way to cure Sharon's maladies is to travel to Silent Hill itself to confront whatever seems to be bothering her daughter.
Trouble sets in before Rose even steps foot in town when her car crashes, after which she awakens to discover that Sharon is missing. In order to find her daughter and get back home, Rose, with the help of a motorcycle cop (Laurie Holden), must venture deep into the heart of Silent Hill, a town still feeling the effects of a horrible fire started decades ago, and face an array of ghastly, unearthly creatures that have overrun the town and stand in the way of Rose completing her quest.
Silent Hill suffers most from a finale that doesn't quite live up to the hype generated by the first two acts and most of the third. More often than not, director Christophe Gans and writer Roger Avary serve up a visually-astounding horror show, providing an assortment of suitably freaky creatures ranging from burning banshees that scream like babies to a hulking beast who carries an equally massive blade and whose head is a giant metal pyramid. These sights help make certain parts of Silent Hill unforgettably scary. Some of the best scenes evoke more dread and true feelings of fear than many watered-down products passing themselves off as horror movies these days.
Still, it's a shame that such awesome atmosphere and creatively gruesome visuals get stuck with a 20-minute plot that's stretched out for two hours and squanders the talents of a solid actress like Mitchell. Her character just runs around and screams her daughter's name for most of the movie. As frightening as the filmmakers depict Rose's experience from time to time, I eventually wanted her to find Sharon just so she would finally shut up. And when the mystery is all resolved in the film's climax, it doesn't feel so much like a resolution as it does a last-resort twist.
I believe Silent Hill will be an ideal DVD rental. With its absolutely gorgeous visual scheme that makes an abandoned ghost town covered in ashes simultaneously beautiful and spooky, this movie is fit to absorb in the comfort of one's home -- but only if the mute button has been firmly pressed down.
MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by TriStar Pictures and rated "R" for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images and some language.)