Silent Hill with a Brief Note on Silent Hill: Revelation
Let’s face it. Adaptations are hard to do well. How many times have you heard someone say that the original movie or book or video game was better? Hell, how many times have you heard someone admit that they liked a film adaptation of a video game? Film adaptations of video games is one of those things people love to hate, like Twilight and Justin Bieber and anything the kids these days like. I’ll admit that even I get swept up in the furor when it comes to making fun of Uwe Boll’s adaptations of video games. It’s a natural reaction, but it’s not entirely fair. I can’t entirely excuse poor execution or adaptations that make changes that take away something essential from the source material. Doom was a fun movie, but I couldn’t help being disappointed when they changed the game’s only plot point; they were supposed to be fighting demons because a teleporter opened a portal to Hell, not humans infected with a mutant virus that only turned evil people into monsters. However, one of the things people always seem to forget when railing against movie adaptations is that things are always lost in translation from one medium to another. In the case of books, movies are unable to translate the quality of the prose, nor can they delve into individual character’s psyches by giving the viewer access to their inner thoughts; voiceover can deliver a character’s inner monologue, but it tends to be used sparingly. In a similar manner, video games lose something when they are adapted to the screen, specifically their interactivity.
Most games have a fairly thin plot because the gameplay is the main reason for playing. All you really need to know is that you have jump on the goombas’ heads or shoot the cyberdemon until it dies. Movie adaptations can’t replicate the fun interactivity of the game, the thrill of completing a puzzle or slaying a horde of zombies, so they have to work harder to catch the viewer’s attention; this isn’t to say that making a good game is easy, but movies tend to be based on good games that have engaging gameplay. What’s more, in a video game you identify with the character you’re playing, at least to some extent, because for all intents and purposes the character is you; it’s just an avatar. Again, movies have to work harder because they don’t have that sort of direct connection between player and character. I have to make a painful admission. I’m kind of a sissy when it comes to horror games. They scare me more than horror movies do. And it’s all because of that direct connection between the player and the character. I know that the monsters aren’t real, but I feel a sympathetic fear because the character, that avatar that represents me, is in the game and monsters are real for the character. I can’t die, but my character can when the monster catches up with him or her. If my character dies, I have to start over again and face those same monsters. Unlike horror movies, you can’t close your eyes until the scariest part of a horror video game is over; you just have to play through it. Silent Hill is not the best possible adaptation of the game, but it’s good, which is saying a lot considering that the odds are stacked against it. The movie can’t replicate the kind of sympathetic fear that the game generates, but I think it captures a lot of the spirit of the games and in that manner it succeeds.
Silent Hill begins with a young girl named Sharon sleepwalking, dreaming of the titular town. Sharon’s mother, Rose, decides to take her daughter to Silent Hill in the hopes of finding out what trauma in her past causes her nightmares and sleepwalking; we learn that Sharon was adopted and she was originally born in Silent Hill. Rose leaves without her husband, Christopher, because he thinks Sharon needs additional medication. Rose stops briefly at a gas station and a cop named Cybil follows her, because Rose acts suspicious and Cybil thinks Sharon is being kidnapped. They all crash in Silent Hill when Rose swerves out of the way of a creepy little girl walking across the highway. Rose wakes up in her car and finds that everything is covered in fog and ash continually falls from the sky like snow. She encounters the rusty, decrepit otherworld and the twisted creatures that inhabit it. Rose meets Cybil again and the two search Silent Hill for Sharon; meanwhile, Rose’s husband, Christopher, search They come across a fanatical cult and learn that the supernatural evil enveloping the town is caused by Alessa, a little girl who was bullied by her classmates and the town in general when she was alive. To rescue Sharon, Rose has to go deep into the town hospital. She confronts Alessa, who’s being kept alive by a nurse. Alessa reveals that the town burned her for being a witch, but failed to kill her and accidentally set fire to the coal mines; the burning coal mine explains the drifting ash and why the town is abandoned in the real world. Alessa survived, but she split into a light and dark side. The light side of her is Sharon, who’s effectively Alessa’s daughter. The dark side is a creepy little girl that appears throughout the movie and is an incarnation of Alessa’s hatred; it’s this hatred that gives her the power to control reality and monsters in Silent Hill. The cult seeks to burn Sharon, in hopes of destroying Alessa as they had originally intended. Rose goes to rescue Sharon and is assisted by Alessa, who wants revenge on all the townspeople. After Alessa tears the cult to shreds with barbed wire, Rose and Sharon are able to return home. They come home, but the world is still enveloped in fog. It seems that they are still trapped in Silent Hill’s foggy world, while Christopher still lives in the real world.
I’m not well versed in Silent Hill lore because I haven’t played all the games, but I’ve played the first game, part of the fourth one, and watched a series of videos about Silent Hill Downpour by a couple of guys who comment on the series and make fun of each other as they play the game. From what I’ve seen and played, Silent Hill captures a lot of the spirit of the games, even if it doesn’t match the plot perfectly. I don’t think it’s a big exaggeration when I say that Silent Hill has some of the coolest settings and monsters in a horror film. From the foggy, ashen world where roads drop into endless chasms and everything seems cold and depressing to the livid, rusty, decrepit otherworld where even the walls look out to get you, Silent Hill has a very distinctive, vivid look and atmosphere that I think the film more than does justice to; I was particularly impressed with the transitions from the foggy world to the otherworld. Similarly, the eldritch monstrosities that populate the world of Silent Hill are also well rendered and I’m sure even the most froward fan will admit that the inclusion of Pyramid Head made this film better. To top it all off, the film’s soundtrack borrows from the game’s soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka, who did a lot to set the mood for the games and consequently set the mood for the movie. Silent Hill tries its hardest to evoke its source material’s style and I think it gets closer than any other adaptation of a video game has; unless we’re talking about Mortal Kombat, which basically is the game with less blood and a catchier theme song.
Unfortunately, Silent Hill has its share of flaws. The exposition can run long and it gets bunched up toward the end when Alessa reveals what happened to her. The dialogue can be clunky, especially when exposition is involved. It’s not clear how the coalmines were set on fire when the cult burns Alessa, since we don’t see a cinder or something burning falling down a mineshaft, and it’s unclear why they thought Alessa was a witch. These are problems, but they’re not that bad in the grand scheme of things. The only other potential problem might be for purists, since the movie doesn’t follow the story of the original game exactly; for that matter, it borrows monsters and a few elements from other games. One of the things that I’ve learned about the game series is that the town of Silent Hill, particularly the otherworld, changes with each iteration. The town is always evil and fraught with monsters, but how those evils manifest in the town and otherworld, how the monsters manifest, depends on the new people who are drawn to Silent Hill and the new story that results. By that token, I think the Silent Hill series accommodates change to keep it fresh and I think the deviations in plot of Silent Hill from the game it is largely based on makes sense in terms of the series. Whether the plot is good is up for debate, but I personally think it’s messy, but good.
Silent Hill gets plenty of flak, but among the films based on video games, it’s pretty good at best and decent at worst. I’d highly recommend you see it, even if you haven’t played the games. Silent Hill: Revelation on the other hand…
A brief note on Silent Hill: Revelation
I had initially intended to write a full review of this film, but I realized I didn’t have much to say. I’ll have to watch it again some other time to get a fuller appraisal of it, but I have to say I was mostly amused and disappointed. The film starts off strong and we’re quickly introduced to the otherworld, which is just as scary in this movie as in the last for the most. The movie has cool references to the games, just as the first movie does. Also, the 3D is well done. However, the plot becomes muddy and ridiculous, much more so than in the first movie and there are a few scenes that made me laugh, particularly the ending, which was so very cheesy. They also included the name of an item from the games, but the name is so ridiculous that I can’t believe they included it. I’ll give you a hint; it’s the name of angel and it sounds like the name of a transformer. I remember hearing that one of things that made Silent Hill 3 – or was it 2? – so good, was its subtlety. This is not a subtle movie and I’d recommend that you wait until it’s out on DVD or BluRay before watching it; it’s good enough to watch, but perhaps not worth full ticket price. For the Silent Hill fans that will still watch the film however, take note of the ending of the film. It shows a reference to the beginning of one of the other Silent Hill games, suggesting that that game might be the next sequel.