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Entries in Silent Hill [2006] (1)

Sunday
Oct312010

Silent Hill (2006)

Shhh(it)!

I’m not proud to admit this, especially since Silent Hill was a reader-requested review, but I couldn’t give the film my full attention.  In fairness, I saw it opening weekend, four years ago with my friend, Mandy.  But I always revisit films I’ve seen before I write about them, to make sure the details are fresh, and to see if my opinion about it has changed.

In the case of Silent Hill, I have no idea how I made it through that first screening.  Maybe it was the distraction of soda and popcorn that kept me from losing my mind; but today, sitting in front of my computer with iTunes streaming the movie, I got about fifteen minutes in before my mind began to wander.

This is not good for a film critic with a fidgety mind and a dual-monitor setup in his home office.  A quick check of my e-mail turned into a couple of minutes perusing Kicking the Seat’s traffic stats and Subscriber data; this led to looking up my on-line checking account information; somehow that detoured into checking Facebook for a few minutes—which jogged my memory about wanting to find a better site for posting to multiple social media outlets than Ping.fm (I went with Hellotxt; we’ll see if it makes the grade).

During all of this, Radha Mitchell was running down identical dank hallways and climbing up and down rickety ladders looking for her daughter in a haunted city (the Silent Hill of the title).  I glanced at the screen every time there was an audio “jump” cue or whiny/screaming dialogue—which was quite often for a film in which nothing happens.

This went on for over two hours, which brings me to the heart of Silent Hill’s numerous problems. Unless you’re Stanley Kubrick, it is impossible to pull off an effective, two-hour horror movie.  Like comedies, horror flicks are meant to be quick, effective thrill rides, hopefully containing some inventive kills and—if we’re very lucky—a genuinely creepy idea or two.  When a film crosses the hour-forty-five/two-hour threshold, malaise sets in for the audience; there’s only so much wicked imagery and suspense one can take before repetition kills the potency.  Silent Hill barely has enough material to fill out thirty minutes, so the viewer is at a disadvantage before the title sequence.

Also working against the film is the fact that it’s a weird hybrid of two genres whose popularity had begun to wane by the time it came to the big screen: Japanese-horror-inspired ghost pictures and video game movies.  Silent Hill is based on a video game, which explains the ridiculous amount of walking, running, searching, and gathering of clues.  The J-horror element is most prevalent in the numerous creepy-child-crayon-drawings and drinking-game-worthy shots of a little girl darting out of the frame.  The best movie of each genre was never as good as the most mediocre slasher film, in my opinion, and I was right to not expect much from seeing them melded together.

In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a plot to Silent Hill, and it is the plot of Nicolas Cage’s Wicker Man re-make—with Alice Krige standing in for Ellen Burstyn.  Aside from the fact that everyone in the cult is a ghost, there’s no difference between the two movies.

I take that back.

The Wicker Man at least had Cage’s unhinged-coke-head thing going for it; the best I can say about Silent Hill is that I was very entertained listening for the slips in Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean’s accents (easily done when listening to dialogue and looking up Bukowski broadsides on ebay).

I shouldn’t leave before mentioning the film’s one true selling point: the visuals.  Fans of truly memorable creature designs and beyond lifelike computer-rendered characters will find a whole lot to love in other movies.  Silent Hill relies on a bunch of weightless, silly looking monsters to give the audience the creepy-crawlies; I scratched my head a lot.

Seriously, what does a decades-old cursed death-cult have to do with a machete-wielding thug whose head is a lop-sided iron pyramid?  And what’s with the eyeless nurses jerkily slitting each other’s throats?  The only remotely disturbing ghouls in the film are a pack of enflamed, baby-talking charcoal monsters—and they’re gone after the first half-hour.

I don’t remember hating Silent Hill this much four years ago.  Leave it to the wondrous, all-powerful human brain to block out trauma so effectively.  Here’s hoping lightning strikes twice.