At the risk of pissing off many fans of both video games and horror, I am going to do this week’s impressions on the Silent Hill movie. Silent Hill is understandably one of the most popular horror franchises in gaming. It worked with early system limitations instead of allowing itself to be hampered by them. More importantly, though it gave the world of horror rich and complex plots dealing with the human psyche, and breaking down what makes us who we are in the best and worst possible ways. The games were atmospheric, challenging, and compelling.
Video game movies are often accused of losing the plot of the games they are based on, and it’s not hard to see why. Video game movies not only miss important plot points but often (and more importantly) themes and tones that make up the game. This leads to less than satisfying movies for those that don’t play games and disappointed gamers.
Silent Hill is a bit of an anomaly to me. Die-hard fans of the game tend to hate the movie, and any suggestion that it might not be that bad is often met with derision and sometimes outright anger.
Still looking at it from a purely horror movie fan perspective, it’s a fairly decent movie. Pretending you know nothing about Silent Hill the break down is as follows. Rose is a mother to a troubled adopted daughter Sharon. Fearing that her daughter is at risk to herself, Rose decides to help Sharon confront her demons by taking her to the town that she keeps mentioning, Silent Hill. On their way there they get in a car crash, Sharon is stolen, and Rose sets off to find her. She discovers the town is a nightmare world somewhere between a hellish landscape brought on by the darkness and an only slightly less hellish reality.
An area where the movie does okay is that it tries to recreate the ‘look’ of the Silent Hill franchise. While many fans of the game were disappointed, horror fans can be pleased. It’s dark, horrific, atmospheric, and completely messed up. There is lots of imagery from the games used and some aesthetics from the game even slightly improved upon. I will say that it overuses CGI. A lot of films that came out around the same time have shown their age as CGI has improved drastically and quickly. Not only that but I am a firm believer in practical effects. Many moments that I found horrifying when the movie first released are still unsettling but not that bad. Had they been done with practical effects I think they would have almost the same impact as they did on release day.
The movie also suffers from being too bright. I think it desperately wanted to show off its freaky visuals (which I understand), but there are many scenes where we are supposed to get the feeling that Rose is almost blind but we the audience can see perfectly. It disconnects us from Rose’s experience and from that fear. Silent Hill was forced to embrace a lack of visuals because of limitations, and for the most part, it served the early games well. Silent Hill the movie went the opposite direction. Well used darkness and forcing the viewer to be as blind as Rose would have helped the movie not only be scarier but closer to the Silent Hill game experience.
One aspect that felt like a bit of a failure was the plot. It is a weird blend of both overly influenced by the franchise and not influenced enough. There are sequences in which Rose steps into the shoes of Harry (from the game) and attempts to recreate missions that he took on. These sequences feel awkward because while they work for a game, they are confusing for a movie. The movie is also not as subtle as the early games. It has a point to make, and it takes no chances in the audience not understanding that plot. Part of what makes the early games so popular is the fact that the plot points can take a while to unravel. There are big things that are spelled out for the player, but a lot of the themes and side plots take multiple playthroughs and some introspection to truly come to conclusions.
The movie does not do this. It’s rather heavy-handed towards the end of the movie, and that’s something people dislike. I would also remind viewers of the difference in medium. Movies have a lot less time to drive points home so there is only so much they can do with little hints before their limited time is up and they have to make sure the story sticks. Still, I think the film could have used some subtly, including where plot lines are concerned.
This odd blend of influenced by the games but not, lead to, in my opinion, some poor decisions. As mentioned some sequences in the story felt strange, like Rose looking for certain keys. Also, imagery that while cool lost a lot of meaning, such as the nurses. It’s a common and reoccurring theme with the movie where it suffers from its identity as being “The Silent Hill Movie.”
It is not faithful enough to the games to satisfy those fans, but unwilling to let go more and find it’s own voice.
Still, what the movie does right it nails, if not from a gaming perspective from a horror one. The nightmare town is freakish, and a lot of the imagery used will stick with you. The plot suffers a little from its odd refusal to disconnect from the games but lack of ability to be faithful to them. In spite of those failings in comparison to many horror films out there, it’s solid enough.
I also appreciate that Harry was changed to Rose. The role of mothers/women in horror films are generally speaking, not always the best. They are likely either dead and motivation for a male character, an obsession of a male character, or that lovely combination of both. Rose takes on the role of the concerned parent who is willing to risk anything to help Sharon confront her demons. While the husband does have a background story, none of the women in the movie feel like they only serve as a plot point to the men, and that is refreshing.
The music is excellently done, and if there was an area that the movie embraced fully from the game, it was this, which was smart. A huge part of what made the Silent Hill games was their excellent soundtracks.
So where does this leave us? In all honesty, I think the movie is better than anyone gives it credit for. I think gamers are so obsessed with it not having every single detail right that they have become unforgiving. I think horror fans are turned off by some moments and dismiss it as just another game movie. It’s not in any way a great film. It has issues, of this there can be no doubt. It is creepy, at times scary, has excellent imagery, and a decent enough plot. It tries too hard to please two different crowds and so ultimately fails them both, but in a market flooded with genuinely terrible movies I am not sure why this one gets so much hate other than it’s just simply not “perfect enough.”
Great? No. Entertaining and creepy? Hell yeah.
If you haven’t seen it, go in with an open mind. Try to separate it from being a game movie as much as possible and just experience it for what it is. I realize this is not completely possible, nor should it get an entirely free pass for what it fails to do as far as honoring the games. However, I think the effort to just enjoy it will be worth it, and you might find a decent horror film in the end.