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Silent Hill is a study in atmosphere and mood. While some may say it is style over substance, I’d have to agree a bit, but correct the statement to style with substance. Christophe Gans, the visionary director behind a great foreign film Brotherhood of the Wolf, has crafted a film that is visually astonishing while mind-bendingly layered. Credit writer Roger Avary, whom I have yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve seen containing his involvement, for adapting, not the story exactly, but the emotion and structure which has made the eponymous video game as successful as it has been. While one can look at numerous message boards yelling that this movie is trash compared to the game, the main character’s sex has changed, monsters are in that shouldn’t be, etc., as a film fan (who has never played nor seen the game played) I need to tell these people that film is a new medium. The transition, in my opinion has gone over practically without a hitch.

The acting is superb throughout, a tough sell for a movie of this ilk. Amazingly, Gans was able to compile an on-the-cusp of A-list cast to do the material justice. This is not a hack-em up slasher flick, nor is it a horror of the kind churned out each week to make money. Silent Hill is a stylish art film whose atmosphere haunts. The multi-plane dimensions are reminiscent of the classic Hellraiser movies, along with the creatures that have been manifested from the minds of those being pursued. Each monster here has been created for a reason and does its’ job. This is not the real world, but a nightmare come true. Radha Mitchell plays the desperate mother to perfection, showing fear for outside forces and fear for the wellbeing of her child. While under-used, Sean Bean also shows a subdued emotional palette as he searches for his wife and daughter. The always effective Deborah Kara Unger plays the outcast nicely. A mother herself, she must live with the mistake she has made; the devil reaping revenge won’t allow her to die, maybe due to the love her daughter still holds, but more realistically because she must live with her sin for eternity. As far as the creepiness scale goes, praise should be awarded to Alice Krige as an overzealous cultist and to young Jodelle Ferland who plays some very disturbing scenes like a pro. Ferland is a credit to some liberal parenting I’m sure, as she is cast as some emotionally wrought children with many skeletons in her subconscious. She plays the layers great and I just can’t wait any longer for the much overdue Tideland, directed by auteur Terry Gilliam and starring Jodelle.

While the acting surpasses the genre that Hollywood has tried to pigeonhole the movie into, it is the visual style that really impresses. From the first moment in the town of Silent Hill, when the snow falls through the fog, a flake is caught by Radha Mitchell and turns black, the viewer gets an idea of the attention to detail. Each conversion between reality, Silent Hill grey, and menacing darkness is seamlessly orchestrated. Watching the structures of the grey burn to ash, in turn becoming creatures of the darkness after the air-raid siren ceases, is magical. It’s even more so when the darkness has come to an end and the creatures turn back to ash and slowly materialize together into walls and doors. The cgi work is top-notch as well as the sound effects. Every industrial sound is placed with care and the use of a score does more for mood than any heavy-metal soundtrack could—what seems to be the horror choice of the past decade.

Gans had a vision and he filmed it. The cinematography and visuals are a sight to behold and unfortunately for a horror film, not to be appreciated by the audience the studio has targeted. This is not a horror film more than a dark insight into the psychological mind of a scorned child; a child who hadn’t developed her mind enough to go past atrocities she has seen and experienced. Because of this, her openness to a deal with the devil can have drastic results. Silent Hill is an intelligent thriller that calls for attention and thought. It is a shame that the filmmakers knew this wouldn’t go over with the general audience and had to explain every detail during an extended flashback sequence towards the end of the film. If only Gans had been really creating an independent vision and was allowed to leave surrealism to itself a la David Lynch, I probably would have given this film a perfect score. Instead, money really does talk and when Hollywood wants accessibility, every action must be taken to make the backers happy.

Silent Hill 9/10

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photography:
[1] Radha Mitchell as Rose searches for her sick daughter in Sony Pictures’ Silent Hill – 2006.
[2] Jodelle Ferland plays Sharon, Rose daughter in Sony Pictures’ Silent Hill – 2006.

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