Silent Hill is set in the fictional county of Toluca, West Virginia (the setting in the game is open to interpretation, with some fans positing Maine as the most likely location, while other fans have suggested Southern California). Multiple, overlapping realities exist in (or above, under, or alongside) Silent Hill, none more horrific than the one home to the various grotesques and demons that appear moments after an air raid siren goes off. The Silent Hill closest to our reality is a small, underpopulated resort town with a dark, twisted history that involves witchcraft and the opening of a doorway into a horrific, Lovecraft-inspired alternate reality.
Worried that her young daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), might require psychiatric institutionalization for her walking nightmares, Rose (Radha Mitchell) leaves her husband, Christopher (Sean Bean), for the West Virginia town of Silent Hill. Sharon’s illness is somehow connected to the town or at least Rose believes (since Sharon’s dreams and nightmares seem to center on Silent Hill). Passing through a neighboring town, Rose is greeted with incredulity and suspicion, specifically from the deputy sheriff, Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden). Rose depart from the gas station before Cybil’s has the chance to question her more thoroughly.
As Rose and Sharon drive down a twisting night time road near Silent Hill, a lone, childlike figure darts across the road. Rose swerves and crashes her car. Awakening the next morning, Rose discovers that Sharon has disappeared. Desperate to find Sharon, Rose enters the fog-shrouded, ash-covered, desolate Silent Hill on foot, but she no longer seems to be in our world. Meanwhile, a distraught Christopher arrives in West Virginia, enlisting the aid of a detective, Thomas Gucci (Kim Coates), who seems to know more about Silent Hill than he lets on.
Rose’s journey through a desolate, rundown Silent Hill is interrupted by the sounds of an air raid siren (a singular portent of very bad things to come). Confused, Rose instinctively flees underground for her safety, encountering the first of many supernatural grotesqueries that inhabit Silent Hill. Escaping through luck and Cybil’s timely intervention. Rose learns more about where she is (if not why she’s in an alternate dimension Silent Hill). The dwindling survivors hide from the encroaching darkness in the town church. Only Silent Hill’s outcast, Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kara Unger), seems immune from the supernatural evil that periodically grips the town. Dahlia has been turned out of a puritanical sect led by Christabella (Alice Krige), who controls the sect through apocalyptic-tinged sermons and fear mongering (anyone suspected of being different is immediately accused of witchcraft).
Christophe Gans, his screenwriter Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Rules of Attraction), his cinematographer, Dan Lausten (Nightwatch, Darkness Falls), and his production designer, Carol Spier (one of David Cronenberg’s favorite collaborators), have created a nightmarishly chaotic world. For brief flashes, Silent Hill lives up to a hard “R”-rating, thanks to generous (and, for some, gratuitous) gore and incredibly disturbing imagery of torture, mutilation, and violent deaths. Fans of the videogame series will be happy to hear (literally) that composer Akira Yamaoka receives a scoring credit on Silent Hill. Yamaoka composed the scores for all four games in the series. Yamaoka also created the sound effects and acted as a producer for the third and fourth entries in the series. His contribution here certainly underscores the eerie, supernatural menace Rose must overcome.
Silent Hill also excels in the unique grotesqueries that have been a hallmark of the videogame series. Some of the creatures, however, have been subtly redesigned by Patrick Tatopoulos. In most cases, we see a combination of practical, latex-based creature effects augmented by CGI (the better approach where the horror genre is involved). CGI is still used extensively in Silent Hill, but where it should be used, to extend backgrounds and exteriors, and where practical effects would be ineffective (e.g., the transformation of the town as the Darkness approaches, a hand spreading blood-red tendrils across a wall, the fog and ash effects).
Story wise, Silent Hill no thanks to a weak, linear storyline (e.g., Rose unimaginatively follows the clues, never questioning their credibility or the reasons behind their presence), a yawn inducing central mystery that depends on a lengthy flashback scene to explain the town’s dark history and the reason for the, a CGI-heavy climax inside the church, and a listless, sequel-ready, catharsis-free denouement that leaves a major plot point unresolved. For some, the pre-release buzz that Silent Hill is projected as the first film in a planned series will come as good news. Not for this reviewer, though. Without a strong first entry in a projected series, it’s hard to imagine anyone except hardcore videogame fans willing to venture back into the Silent Hill world.
© Mel Valentin, 21st April, 2006
What do you think of Silent Hill
Share your opinions on our forum