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A Second Look at "Silent Hill" (2006)
Sociologically Relevant Video Game Based Movie Unjustly Panned By Critics
Director: Christophe Gans
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Jodelle Ferland, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Alice Krige, Kim Coates , Tanya Allen
Release Date: April 21, 2006
Back in 2010, I remember reading an article in the paper about a Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, and how he planned to burn many copies of the Qur’an in memory of those who died during 9/11. Here was a man of faith acting out of vengeance, as his reason for the Qur’an burning had nothing to do with his spiritual beliefs, and it had nothing to do with the people who died on 9/11. He was doing it because he was angry that a mosque was planned to be built on Ground Zero in New York. He was acting out of hatred, although there were a few instances where he tried to use his religious beliefs to justify his actions, and he knew good and well that his actions would have had big repercussions.
But enough about him. I also want to talk about another (ahem) “Christian” group that has been the rage across America for the past several years: Woodsboro Baptist Church. Just the name of their church is enough to make your blood boil. They are the ones who picket soldier’s funerals, who hold up signs that say “Thank God for dead soldiers,” who thank God for the children massacred in the school shooting at the Amish village back in 2006, and who say that the Virginia Tech Massacre was a glorious act of God. They are people consumed by evil and hatred, and, like Pastor Jones, try to justify their hate by hiding behind their religious beliefs.
There have been some critics who call Silent Hill anti-Christian, but I disagree. I believe that the movie is an attack against hypocrites who use their faith as a means of justifying their own acts of hate and depravity. It is happening not only with the Christian faith today, but also with the Islamic religion as well. Acts of terrorism and murder have been done in the name of Allah, which is ridiculous because the Islam faith is one of peace. The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root “Salema,” which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. It is not a religion that endorses violence.
The villains of Silent Hill have done a number of evil things in the name of faith, notably suspending a little girl over a fire-y pit and praising God while she burns to death. They are the “bad guys” and they do call themselves Christians, but like I said, I don’t believe Silent Hill is an attack on Christianity in general. That much is made clear when director Christophe Gans juxtaposes a scene where the villains pray their dark prayer of death and judgment with a scene where a kindly nun says her nightly prayers with a room full of orphaned children. She looks at them all with kind eyes, and tells them “God bless!” This is something the villains of the piece have shown are incapable of doing. They are driven by hate; the nun at the orphanage is not.
Jodelle Ferland plays Sharon, the adopted daughter of Rose and Chris DeSilva (Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean), who suffers from extreme sleepwalking episodes. When one particular episode nearly causes her to throw herself off a cliff, Rose decides enough is enough and takes the young lass to the town where she was born, Silent Hill, since she keeps screaming its name during her many episodes. But Rose loses the child upon her arrival at the town, and in order to find her daughter again, she has to survive the evil that has been plaguing the town for 30 years, ever since a mine fire erupted underneath the town and still rages on to this very day.
It’s fascinating to note how sociologically sound this horror movie, based on a video game no less, is, and how well the visuals compliment the movie’s sociological views on religion. Note the way an illuminated cross is framed before the title card comes up in the beginning. Note the way Gans films Mitchell in front of an eerie painting in the climax. If one were to turn off the sound and look at the way Silent Hill was filmed, it would still come across as an engaging and complex film.
As a horror movie, the film has more than it’s share of creepy and disturbing images. I loved the entire segment at the abandoned elementary school, and felt chills when a creature of sorts crawls out of one of the stalls in the girl’s bathroom. I got a huge kick out of the scene in the hospital basement, where Mitchell has to make it through a hoard of knife-wielding, zombie nurses. I especially loved the climactic scene involving long strands of barbed wire. The scene is filmed with an almost painterly eye, constructed out of crisp brushstrokes of blood, guts, and severed limbs (it’s disgusting, sure, but dang if it didn't blow me away).
Yet the one thing that stands out the most about Silent Hill is something that even haters of the film can’t deny: The look of the movie. This is truly one of the best looking horror movies I’ve ever seen. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is elegant and often times entrancing. The production design by Carol Spier, art direction by James McAteer and Elinor Rose Galbraith, and set decoration by Peter P. Nicolakakos are all almost alien in their beauty. The musical score by Jeff Danna and Akira Yamaoka wonderfully compliment the mood of the piece, and the editing by Sebastien Prangere keeps the movie moving at a reasonable pace. I say this, too, acknowledging the Sean Bean subplot where he investigates the history of the town. Many have found it to be needless padding, whereas I actually found it worked for the movie’s central sociological thesis (it's his investigation, after all, that leads to the crucial scene at the orphanage).
The performances do work in the film. I liked Bean and Mitchell. I liked Ferland (save for one scene where she goes into a full “I don’t like that mommy!” whine at the beginning). I liked Kim Coates as the cop who with holds information from Bean regarding the town’s history. They actually turn in decent performances, which is quite an achievement, given the things they’re made to say in the film.
Which is to say that the movie is far from perfect. There are a number of plot holes in the movie that are just a little too big too ignore. For example, after Cybil survives a demonic blackout with Rose at the school, she seems sincerely freaked out and confused by what just happened. However, this is the second time Rose has experienced one of these blackouts, so where the hell was Cybil when the first one happened? Second, I had some trouble piecing together Sharon’s connection with the woman responsible for all the supernatural shenanigans. I think Sharon is suppose to be the woman’s daughter, or a representation of her better half, or….but never mind. Some of the questions, not all of them, I had about her character were answered by a helpful fellow on International Movie Database, who also managed to explain the movie’s final scene, which seemed to have baffled many who saw the film (myself included, until it was finally explained to me).
The biggest fault of the movie, however, is the dialogue. “Evil awakes in vengeance. Be careful which side you choose” one character intones at one point. The worst lines go to Laurie Holden, who plays a small town police officer Cybil wearing an unusual looking police uniform. Despite that fact that she’s well aware of the fires burning underneath the town, and despite the fact that it’s been raining ash since her arrival, she still blurts out at one point, “It looks like there was a fire here!” Thank you Captain Obvious. But the biggest laugh comes later in the film, after she and Mitchell have just survived two of the town’s demonic blackouts. She stops, looks around, and says, “Something bad must have happened here.” I’m just so glad she was there in the movie; otherwise, we would have no way of knowing that something bad had happened to the town of Silent Hill.
Silent Hill is one of those movies that has as many positive aspects about it as it does negative. However, I truly felt that the positives far outweigh the negative, and so the movie gets a solid recommendation from me. It’s so very rare to see a movie based on a video game that’s this ambitious and so artistically fascinating. Style and substance are one in the same in Silent Hill, and the results are nothing short of brilliant.
Final Grade: *** (out of 4)