Saturday, February 21, 2009

Silent Hill (2006, Christophe Gans)

"Has there ever been a passable movie based on a video game?" I asked, grimly watching a Max Payne tv spot. "Only Silent Hill," the girlfriend replied. I perked up, eager to discover this anomaly in the film world.

As it turns out, to an extent, she's right. Silent Hill isn't a great movie, no-- but it's kinda nifty. It begins in a bit of a whirlwind, mind you-- within the first five minutes or so, Radha Mitchell realizes that her daughter lapses into psychotic episodes, murmuring about "Silent Hill" at night, and she's in the middle of carrying out her master plan to.... well, to barrel her SUV into the West Virginia town and see what happens. This was my first demerit point AND my first kudo, I decided while watching this. On one hand, don't horror movies that take for-EVVV-ver to get to any sort of payoff just cause you to grit your teeth? On the other, we're thrown so immediately into the meat of the story that there's ZERO chance of identifying with the characters. A bit of a conundrum, that.

But then Radha gets to Silent Hill and stumbles upon a series of eerie setpieces and cool grotesqueries, and all-- well, most-- is forgiven.

There's very little sense to be made of the human aspect of this movie, mind you. There's no connect with the characters, through faulty scripting AND faulty acting (should Radha Mitchell ever carry a movie? seriously?), and the plot, topping out at over two hours (long for this kind of flick), is as convoluted as they come. But still, the supernatural element... well, that's just great.

The film LOOKS fantastic. The picture is crisp, and the images are arresting. The (seemingly random) series of ghoulish obstacles that Radha (and leather-babe motorcycle cop Laurie Holden) encounters are delightful. There are creepily lurching, armless monstrosities. There are armies of burned-alive corpses. There's a monster that is inexplicably terrifying (to describe him to you is pointless, as your immediate response would be to point and laugh at my low standards). And, perhaps most creepy of all, there are legions of cultish Pilgrims, refuges from that alternate-dimension revisionist history where they all land at Burnt Offering Rock. These are all very, very cool. There's a keen visual sense at play here, and let's face it, it keeps the picture afloat. There's no emotional content (disappointingly little, really, for what is essentially a child in peril flick) and way, WAY too much plot-- but director Christophe Gans keeps the fantastic surreal imagery coming, and the two hours go by a lot quicker than one may assume.

And that's really all I have to say about Silent Hill, a film that I sort of recommend, just for looking so damned cool. Fans of grisly, eerie images will find themselves in a sort of spot-the-phantasm shangri-la, and, really, there's nothing wrong with that. So it's short on heft. So what? The artsier stuff here should more than satiate the discerning viewer.

Rating: **1/2 (out of five)

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