Horror movies adapted from video games don’t have a checkered history. By and large, critics have universally loathed these movies. ‘Director’ Uwe Boll scraped the bottom of the barrel with adaptations of Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead. On the other end of the spectrum, Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil probably remains the ‘gold standard’ of the sub-genre. Though it’s not a bad movie, however, Resident Evil is hardly The Exorcist. And then there’s the 2006 Silent Hill adaptation. Critics were unimpressed, but it performed modestly well at the box office. In the years since its release, Silent Hill has also built up something of a cult following. Enough people like the movie for Shout Factory to re-issue a Collector’s Edition under their Scream Factory label. Did the critics get it wrong? Or is Silent Hill just another bad video game movie?
Silent Hill an Atmospheric and Visually Impressive Horror Movie
Admittedly, I’m not much of a ‘gamer’ and have no direct experience with the video game on which the movie is based. But I have seen director Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf. For the uninitiated, Gans’ French-Canadian historical-horror movie is a visually stunning, narratively twisting achievement. Not surprisingly then, Silent Hill is an impressive horror movie to look at it. In spite of what was likely a modest budget, Gan’s adaptation of the video games overflows with both classic horror iconography and Silent Hill’s bizarrely imaginative creatures. In particular, the game’s ‘Pyramid Head’ and ‘Faceless Nurses’ are gruesomely rendered on screen. Alongside, the impressive set designs for the town itself, Silent Hill looks as good as just about any horror movie in recent memory.
… Silent Hill looks as good as just about any horror movie in recent memory.
Moreover, Silent Hill doesn’t shy away from violence, implied or otherwise. From immolation to ‘Pyramid Head’ tearing the skin from a character’s body, Gans’ immerses you in the game’s grisly world. By and large, most of the movie’s effects hold up, though not as well as the character and set designs. Consistent with many 2000’s horror movies, Silent Hill overuses CGI effects, which immediately date the movie. In addition to the occasionally unconvincing CGI, Silent Hill veers into uncomfortable territory. A monstrous janitor creature and story-line involving child sexual abuse is dark subject matter for any move, let alone one adapted from a video game. Today, this type of story might be deemed unnecessary given all the other horrific content already swirling about in the movie.
A Nearly Incomprehensible Story and Lack of Scares Set Up a Glass-Ceiling
Despite its impressive visuals and set design, two major problems plague Silent Hill. First, Silent Hill is not a scary movie. Yes, it looks scary. But it’s not really scary. At all. While there’s atmosphere to spare for much of the movie, don’t expect any jumps or jolts. Similarly, Gans fails to create any true sense of suspense. This in part can be attributed to a lack of character development – you don’t really care much about any of the characters in the movie. But from just a film-making perspective, Silent Hill lacks any true moment of ‘edge-of-your-seat’ thrills. Arguably, a scene involving the ‘Faceless Nurses’ is as close as the movie ever gets to suspenseful. And at over two hours, even the movie’s atmosphere eventually dries up.
The expository dialogue almost requires subtitles to add in more background information.
Of course, it’s not just the length that hurts Silent Hill’s creepy atmospherics. Even with Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) writing the screenplay, Silent Hill is a convoluted, almost incoherent, movie. I’ll assume that the filmmakers had to cram in story and mythology from multiple editions of the game because this is a movie crammed with things that need explaining. Flashbacks and excessive expository dialogue bog the movie down, often killing any momentum. Not even the required persistent need to explain everything helps make sense of what’s happening. The expository dialogue almost requires subtitles to add in more background information. By the time Silent Hill hits its final act, it’s hard to understand why characters are doing certain things. Fortunately, the movie’s ending leaves things on an ambiguously unsettling note.
At Least Silent Hill Doesn’t Kill Sean Bean
Silent Hill had a lot going for it despite its video game roots. An art-house indie director, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and a strong cast that included Radha Mitchell and Sean puts Silent Hill miles ahead of Mortal Kombat. And the game itself is apparently quite a scary experience. But as good as it looks, Silent Hill is too long, nearly incomprehensible, and lacking in real scares. On the other hand, it’s an entirely watchable movie that never gets boring. Maybe it takes itself too seriously to make for the same kind of ‘guilty pleasure’ viewing as Resident Evil or Street Fighter. but the set design and visuals are too good to outright label a bad movie. As a compromise, I’ll call Silent Hill a movie for fans of the video game, but not necessarily a horror movie to seek out.