Merrick is glad he didn't go. He's confused enough, already...
Over the last few weeks, we've seen many e-mails and Talkbacks asking why no SILENT HILL reviews have appeard on this site.
The short answer is: Screen Gems went out of its way to not screen this movie. The closest thing to an Austin "screening", for example, was held at 9pm last night...the film opens today. It was a promotional screening - press was not invited. If that doesn't speak volumes about the studio's confidence in the film...
None the less, Massawyrm dutifully infiltrated one presentation...and was perplexed by what he saw.
Hola all. Massawyrm here. Wow. Just wow. Silent Hill is probably the single most fucked up thing you will see this year. And man, does it have me torn in two. Deranged, psychotic and occasionally schizophrenic, Silent Hill is both a resounding success and a colossal failure. Having walked out of this slack jawed I can fully understand why the studio hates it. Because, frankly, many people will. And yet I can just as easily see why Avary and Gans are proud of it. They have a lot to be proud of. This is, after all, the very first truly faithful adaptation of a video game ever made. The question is: is that necessarily a good thing?
Honestly, I don’t fucking know. I’ve always taken a small issue with video game movies. For me it all comes down to the same reason I don’t think they ever should have made a Dungeons & Dragons movie (and never should again.) Dungeons & Dragons is a game, and a great one. But it’s a game that is highly derivative of its source material – it is for all intents and purposes “Lord of the Rings” the game. Add in a smattering of Narnia, some Conan the Barbarian and a healthy mix of popular 60’s and 70’s fantasy and you have Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, along the way D&D has created its own mythos, creatures and ideas – but when you boil it all down, its just LotR. And it always will be. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you create something derivative of fiction, translating it into another medium, then try to translate it back…well you end up with a product derivative of something derivative.
Halo is just Starship Troopers meets Aliens with Zombies. Doom is Aliens with Demons. Resident Evil is Dawn of the Dead in a house. Now, I loved all of these games, but the movies…well with Doom and RE, both attempts became a mess of mangled ideas in an attempt to create something bigger than the game. I liken it to taking a script, running it through Babelfish from English to Japanese, then running it back through to English again. If you’ve never tried that, do so. The results are pretty fucking insane.
So with Silent Hill Gans and Avary set out to perfectly adapt a video game to film and show that it could be done right. The result? Like running movies through Babelfish. Imagine if you will a Hammer film adaptation of an H.P Lovecraft story directed by a late 80’s/Early 90’s John Carpenter who is in the midst of suffering from fever dreams while watching Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson music videos. That’s Silent Hill. But as piecemeal as it seems – it sticks religiously to the game. It’s positively deranged. Creepy, fucked up, bloody as hell and often very reminiscent of different horror films at different points, someone remarked tonight “Man, if you took the bloodiest 3 and a half minutes of this, you could make the single greatest GWAR music video ever.” And he’s right. There are images in here that had me writhing in my seat, covering my agape mouth and shouting “Oh, fuck no!”
But sticking so closely to the game also takes a big toll on the story. As a horror film, you pretty much need some sort of body count. Now while that isn’t always true – it’s true enough – and with a film with only one primary character (and a small collection of secondary characters) there’s never the feeling of impending doom on the main character. You know that she has to survive. In the game, your character can die. So you get tense. Things come out of nowhere and you jump. You react. And you turn the lights on…because Silent Hill was some creepy fucking shit. But in movie form, it’s just not that scary. Sure, its telling a horror story, but it does so in a very Lovecraftian sort of way, something akin to “The Dream Quest of the Unknown Kaddath” (which Oh Dear God how I would love for Avary and Gans to tackle next.) There’s lots of crazy insane stuff, but man, its mostly just a woman walking around seeing…crazy insane stuff. You never really feel that she’s about to bite it at any moment, so despite the creepy adaptation of the game’s score, the soulfucking imagery and the horrific ideas presented – it never gets really scary or creepy.
And lets face it – video games are not about character development. Sure, occasionally some games have it, but most don’t. Silent Hill being one of the ones that doesn’t. The main character is thin and her motivations basic. She’s a mother looking for her adopted daughter (whose troubles seem to be affecting her marriage.) And there are times in the film in which she seems absolutely bugfuck insane. “Why the hell did she do that?” is a question you may find yourself asking more than once. And her cop sidekick? Cardboard. The coolest characters in the film are all fully developed in the backstory, and rarely get developed outside of that.
Really, the biggest complaint is that it sticks TOO MUCH to the game. There’s even some puzzle solving and a monologue that includes congratulating the heroine on solving them. While most of these may pass right by people who never played the game, the movie is full of direct references to it (many in very clever and subtle ways) so die hard fans are going to find a lot to like. But other people just aren’t going to get into the “Follow around the mom” storyline.
So weak characters, fairly derivative material and it’s not scary. Why the hell am I so torn? Because the rest of the time the movie is so god damned cool. The visuals are astounding. Everything in the town is just twisted, but in the best way possible. The town itself is wonderfully conceived, from the persistent rain of ash to the interiors of every building. The creature designs are a thing of beauty – from shrieking ash children, to amorphous bile spitters to a Sword Dragging, Tin Roof helmeted barbarian to the OHMYFUCKINGGOD barbed-wire monster. Every creature is a thing to haunt the nightmares. The gross outs are amazingly intense, with every kill splattering more gore than the one before it. And there’s this bit at the end with the little girl dancing in the rain that was so morbid, so sadistic…that it twisted me in knots. The very best parts of the game were truly brought alive and bolstered by some nice original touches that never, ever, betray the game or its story.
It all made me realize that if I were 13 years old, this would no doubt be the scariest fucking movie I’ve ever seen. It recalled memories of the week of nightmares I had after Damien: The Omen 2 and the fact that I couldn’t sleep at all the night I stayed up to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street. And it struck me how so many older geeks sneer at us when we mention films like Prince of Darkness or Friday the 13th as being in our pantheon of horror favorites. I strongly feel that Silent Hill is one of those films for the next generation of geeks – one that Gans and Avary are going to do commentary for 20 years down the road remarking “Yeah, the studio just didn’t get it. But apparently there are people that do.”
And frankly, the 13 year old in me loved it, because, well, the 13 year old in me got to stay up late and watch some fucked up shit. But the adult in me, well he has problems with it. I know I can still be scared, I know I can still be creeped out. But Silent Hill did neither. And its not that it’s a dumb movie – it’s actually quite smart about what short hand it uses – but many of the story ideas have been used better before and with the characters so thin…well, many adults and older geeks are going to be turned off by it (there were several screaming bloody murder tonight.)
Ultimately, Silent Hill is going to be accused of being style over substance, and not unjustly so. It’s really going to come down to how affecting the visuals are to you and how much you care about them versus the story and character development. I will say this, it stands heads and shoulders above recent films like Ghost Ship, Gothika and 13 Ghosts. But mainstream audiences might not agree. It might just be too smart in all the right places and too dumbed down in all the wrong ones. Recommended for 13 year olds whose parents let them watch gore films, people still in regular touch with the 13 year old inside them and anyone that LOVES a gory movie regardless of story. Otherwise, you might just hate this film.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
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