Thursday, April 21, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Silent Hill (2006)

As can probably be inferred from my collection of horror genre reviews, I love horror, especially psychological horror. I've probably said that about a million times since I started this blog, but in this review it becomes apparent that I need to really need everybody to know that. Some of my favorite movies include the best of the psychological horror genre, including Jacob's Ladder, 1408, Sauna: Wash Your Sins. There are other good ones like The Machinist and The Dark, but there is a very clear distinction between good psychological horror movies and bad ones.

Part of the problem with any psychological movie (even without the horror) is that characterizations are difficult to do with the limited amount of time. Also using actual psychology- memories, ideas, and such-becomes increasingly difficult when the filmmakers know nothing about psychology. Sure, a good movie can still be made, but not a good psychological movie. One of the reasons I like movies like that so much is because of how difficult they are to make and the challenge of actually succeeding with them by making a clearly effective and sometimes terrifying film.

The Silent Hill series is also one of my favorite video game series of all time. I would love to review more Silent Hill games, but I also want to pace myself, really do them during my October Nights every day horror review schedule for next year. My point here is that Silent Hill is amazing for the most part. It does psychological and survival horror extremely well, terrifying the pants off of anybody who plays them. Anybody who has ever taken the time to play Silent Hill 2, for example, know that it is easily the scariest video game of all time. That's what this series has to offer, quality horror, often psychological horror, and often debilitating to the player.

God help me, I love the Silent Hill series, so when this movie Silent Hill, came out in 2006 when I was all of 17. I wanted to see it. I was dying to see it. I knew everything about the franchise, knew the characters, knew the monsters, knew the horror. I was in the mood to be terrified by this movie.

But I really wasn't. It's not that it was bad. It probably stands as one of the best movies from a video game source ever made, but the problem was that it was incredibly mediocre and not scary. There were no terrifying parts, no tension, no... anything. The acting was mediocre except from Sean Bean who is consistently awesome, but criminally underused in this film. Why couldn't he have been the protagonist and really had the video game this movie was made from really be made into a movie? (Silent Hill, the video game, had a male protagonist and the movie used the same storyline with a female protagonist. It didn't work well.)

The actors in this movie were... well, mediocre. Sure, Sean Bean is always great, but Radha Mitchell was frankly terrible. I don't know if it was her lines or her acting, but she never really seemed like a concerned mother, but rather more like a person reading from a text book. Laurie Holden, a good actress by the other things I've seen her in, is also underused here, being good in the scenes she's in, but not used enough to be effective. Alice Krige is effective in points, but silly and unneeded in the story. Where did Dr. Kaufmann from the video game go? Why is the character of Dahlia (Deborah Kara Unger) relegated to side character status?

And then there's Jodelle Ferland, who actually does do a good job as a creepy child/innocent child, but really should have been in a better movie than this to justify her performance.

The psychological elements in this film are terrible. Characters like Pyramid Head, called the Red Pyramid in the movie, is blatantly used for... no reason at all except that he's recognizable and iconic. In Silent Hill 2 he serves a purpose as both executioner and punisher, but here he is shoehorned into a few scenes for no other reason than to show up in the film and be on the posters. WHY? Why would a franchise that focuses on such powerful psychological elements criminally misuse psychological elements? Why are there sexy nurses? Why? Seriously. Sexy nurses were in Silent Hill 2 and were well-explained. Before that there were nurses, but they were monstrous, not sexy, which made sense to the game. Silent Hill, the video game, made a clear source of where the psychology comes from and how it is used. The nurses were from Alessa and her basically being trapped in a hospital. They were warped reminders of her terror and fear of where she was. Why are they sexy? It makes no sense.

There are other monsters to complain about, but that's all I'm going to say. Some things were interesting and not so terrible, like Colin, although even that was for a few seconds and mostly terrible. The bugs were silly. And here's the grossest misuse of the movie: The miners and the cult. Oh, dear God, the miners and the cult made me want to rage-quit the movie. For where they are, sure the miners make sense, I guess, but what about the stupid Christian cult? Where did the video game cult go? Why is it Christianized? I mean, yes, the cult is seriously one of the worst parts of the video games, but at least use it. Don't change it to crazy fundamental Christians and use witch burning and stuff. It's insulting and frankly terrible.

Now for some good points. The end of the movie is really well done. I found it enjoyable. The gore might be a little much at points, but the whole ending is both poignant at times and pretty hardcore at other times. The end of the movie is really original, not taking much from the video game, and that works. It's pretty cool. I love the grainy filters over the flashbacks and I wish the whole movie could have looked like that. I like the use of darkness and light in the ending and the visuals are altogether really well done. Even the acting seems better in the end.

The problem is that the rest of the film is pretty bad. The pacing is bad. The psychology is bad. The acting isn't good. Even the scenery, something that should not have been problematic, looks terrible. The visuals frankly suck even when the Silent Hill franchise is known for their amazing, terrifying visuals.

I'm not exactly in the group of some people who absolutely hate this movie, but I do think it's absolutely mediocre and forgettable. The Dark, a movie from 2005, and one I'll probably review eventually, basically follows almost the exact same plot as this movie, but with better acting, a better story, a better and more confusing and ambiguous ending, and more Sean Bean, which is always a good thing. The psychology to that move is fantastic, even if the movie isn't absolutely stunning. But I'll review that when I review it.

One more thing I'll mention about Silent Hill is that my girlfriend, a person who has never seen a horror movie before, was not afraid of this movie. She kind of just shrugged it off, saying that the only part that actually scared her was the gore, which happens for all of twenty seconds. She also hated the persistent CGI throughout the movie... and now mentioning that...

The persistent CGI throughout the movie is terrible. The transitions between worlds, the monsters, some of the visuals, etc... all look terrible with the CGI. It's painful to watch and I would have much rather had people in costumes and a transition in the character's sleep instead, like in the Silent Hill games.

There's a lot wrong here, and my biggest problem with the movie isn't even the movie itself, but rather that the next game, Silent Hill: Homecoming, used so much from the movie, that had taken from the earlier games, that it made a game that had terrible psychological elements, Pyramid Head around for no reason, miners, sexy nurses, patients... ugh... that game was awful and it's all because it took from this somewhat successful movie.

Anyway, it's not scary even though it should be, it left a bad impression on me and the Silent Hill franchise, and the video games are much better and scarier. Leave this movie alone unless you really love Silent Hill, and then realize how bad this movie actually is to fans of the games.

Also, as an endnote, there's a sequel in the works. Isn't that wonderful?

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