Silent Hill the Movie
Silent Hill is a movie that is based on a video game of the same name. There is a history of video game to movie translations, and the general expectation of those efforts has, for the most part, been that the story suffers greatly in the transformation. Seeing your favorite game translated to the big screen always holds a risk of being greatly disappointed. This game is no exception. Even though this game is heavily story driven, it gains no passes in the critical eye of fanatical Silent Hill game players around the world. When you are basing a movie off of a book or a video game, any story that has reached audiences in another form, there tend to be two trains of thought about how to bring this story to the movie screen. Either the story that came before becomes a rock around the director’s neck, limiting his choices to slavishly try to match every scene and satisfy all the fans. Or it can become a solid base that the director draws inspiration from, a frame from which he hangs his vision and shares his interpretation, which may satisfy some fans while invariably alienating some others.
The original game the movie was adapted from was considered part of the psychological horror genre. The idea was to put the player into a situation where they would feel fear even when visually nothing seemed to be happening, and play through that feeling. The original story was about a man and a woman who could not have a baby, they found a baby abandoned at the side of the road and decided to adopt her. A few years later the woman had died from her illness, the man and her daughter are travelling along the road and have an accident. When the man wakes up his daughter is missing. He goes to search for her in a seemingly abandoned town, called Silent Hill. During the search for his daughter the man finds more than he has bargained for, including monsters, a drug ring conspiracy, a religious cult, and a psychologically and physically scarred woman. This is what writer Roger Avary had to work with, and to adapt to something movie watchers would be able to identify with.
Video Games Made Into Movies
Should video games be made into movies?
The Basic Plot
The movie opens with the daughter, Sharon, having gone missing in the middle of the night. Her parents, Christopher and Rose, are searching for around a nearby river. During the search the mother, Rose, sees her daughter, Sharon, at the edge of a cliff looking very unstable and like she is going to fall into the chasm. Looking into the chasm reveals a foreshadowing vision of a very deep cliff that plunges into an industrial looking area with fire pits all around, and a glimpse of a scary face at the bottom. After a bit of arguing between the couple, we find out that the daughter has been dreaming of a place called Silent Hill, and the mother believes that the only way to help her daughter is to take her to a town in Virginia with that name. Later we find out that this town was abandoned due to coal fires deep underground that have never been able to be quelled, and also that the daughter, Sheryl, was adopted from the next town over, called Brahams. Rose takes off with her daughter to visit this town, against the wishes of her husband, Christopher, who believes that they can help her daughter without taking her to this doomed town.
On their way to visit the town they attract the attention of a police officer, Cybil Bennett, who believes that Sharon might be in danger as she has witnessed before people who decide they will cure their problems by getting rid of their child by throwing them into one of the pits in the town of Silent Hill, so she decides to follow Rose and Sheryl to see where they are going. Rose takes the blockaded offshoot towards Silent Hill, and then she and Cybil crash at the entrance to Silent Hill. Rose wakes alone in the car, having bumped her head on the steering wheel, and her daughter Sheryl is gone. Ash is falling all around her and the sky is very misty. From here we follow Rose trying to figure out where her daughter is, following clues she believes will lead her to find Sharon. We also follow Christopher looking for Rose and Sharon, and following his own set of clues. We also start to get the idea that Rose and Christopher are no longer in the same world.
Radha Mitchell was cast as the mother, Rose Da Silva. At the time of the casting Rahda was a relative unknown according to gossip columns. This caused quite a bit of discussions about her ability to pull off, not only a movie herself as the main protagonist, but also in a role that was male in the original storyline. However it was likely the best move that could have been made for the movie, as a mother missing a child tends to gain more sympathy than a father searching for a child, and quickly bypasses any incest-motivated questioning that could have cropped up for those unfamiliar with the original plot. The only complaint about her acting was the matter of fact way she received each clue to finding the location of her daughter. No matter the manner the clue was delivered, it may as well have been marked ‘clue’ for the amount of musing done over the meaning of the clue, let alone whether it was truly a clue or just a random peace of clutter. Sean Bean, as the father, Christopher Da Silva, was instead regulated to the position of family member stuck in our reality, trying to find and rescue the rest of his family.
Laurie Holden as Sheriff Cybil Bennett was brilliant casting, as not only did her image and presence immediately bring Cybil from the game to mind, but her brilliant acting brought the character to life. On the other hand, Deborah Kara Unger as Dahlia Gillespie was a startling change from the original tale, being sympathy inducing crazy rather than scarily, threateningly crazy. In the movie she was one of the victims rather than the villain. Again, a brilliant performance. I could easily believe she was only doing what she thought she had to do to protect her child, and was ultimately denied feeling as if she had any control at all.
Finally, the casting of Christabella, Alice Krige, as the true villain was a stroke of genius. The crazy practically rolled off of Alice while she still remained believable as a religious fanatic who no longer used her mind to decide what is the right or wrong thing to do, but relies purely on ‘faith’ to provide her reasons. The role of her antithesis, and simultaneously Rose and Christopher’s daughter, was played very creatively by Jodelle Ferland. While Alessa was played as a stroke of genius, the dark and revenge driven dream of her younger self, very eerily creepy, Sharon was played almost as younger than her supposed age. She was about 12 when the movie was made, she could have easily been portraying a developmentally delayed 8 year old when she was portraying Sharon. The effort to draw the difference between Sharon and Alessa here seemed to have taken its toll, and quite likely was not necessary. Alessa was quite creepy enough as she was played, a normal child, if they didn’t want to draw a specific age, would have been quite sufficient. Instead they tried to emphasize her innocence by creating a few very babyish characteristics in her actions and reactions.
The game of Silent Hill received acclaim due to its unique cinematic style. It was blocked out in a style usually reserved for a movie rather than a video game, a style that required a bit of finesse as a player and generally took time to get used to, as the camera would move into an odd angle for the player that would increase the drama of the situation quite a bit. The influence of the game’s cinematic style is seen quite clearly in certain scenes in the movie, from the dramatic angles, suffocating atmosphere, drab and dirty looking scenery, and occasionally even the actions of the actors themselves.
Silent Hill is essentially three layers of what we can loosely call ‘reality.’ There is the real world, where everything is the way we view it every day. Next is the foggy world, where Rose finds herself after she wakes up from her car accident. Everything in this world looks the same as the real world, except that it is foggy and gloomy, and there is often snow, or ash in the case of the movie, falling from the sky. Finally there is dark world, visually different from the foggy world in that it is shown as rust covered chain link fences, metallic grates, with peeling paint and other visual images of corruption and decomposition. Once a person is in the foggy world it is nearly impossible to get back to the real world. However passage from the foggy to the dark world is common and happens after being heralded by a warning siren. Passage back is generally with little to no warning, but since it is a relief to be out of the dark world it really doesn’t need a warning.
The cinematographer, Dan Lausten, captures the differences between the worlds very effectively. The special effects team brought the changes between worlds to life, truly creating the feeling that the world was decomposing around the characters. Each world is distinctive and can be recognized separately from each other fairly quickly. The visual impact of the dark world has lost none of its creepiness in the translation from game to movie, in some ways not being able to control what is going on or how long you are in a particular setting only adds to the feeling of being trapped in a world that is decomposing. He would also use focused, long shots when introducing a monster, alternating with shorter shots when the protagonists were trying to get away from the threat. However, in comparison he would use longer shots for set up scenes where the protagonists were searching for clues to what happens, and for establishing shots for different areas.
The editor for this film is Sebastien Prangere. One section in particular where the editing deserves specific praise is where Christopher is searching for Rose and is in the courtyard in the school, while she is looking for Sharon inside the classrooms. Rose becomes frightened and runs outside, there is some clever editing going on where you see Rose run through the area where Christopher is searching, and he suddenly stops an inhales dramatically and you understand that her ghost or spirit has just run through him and he felt or sensed her. This is just one example of Sebastien using his editing talents to help you understand better what is going on in what essentially is a very confusing movie.
The person who worked on the music for the game, Akira Yamaoka, also worked on the movie. He was joined by Jeff Danna in creating the soundtrack for the movie. His work in the game was amazing, fully evoking the feeling of each area and capitalizing on the overall creepiness of various areas. The only alteration that was noticeable was the addition of “The Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, playing on the jukebox when Rose first wakes up in the foggy world after fainting during her first visit to the dark world. It was a good addition to the original soundtrack, being a normal song that is recognizable to listeners but the lyrics still fully fitting into the theme of the movie. In fact it represents the experience Rose had just had to a tee.
Style and Directing
Christophe Gans directed this movie. He has some understanding of the horror genre as an art form. His direction of the dark world focuses on the threat of being in that scary environment, and also shows the terror of the monsters. In one particular scene when Pyramid Head is threatening Rose and Cybil the camera focuses on Pyramid Head’s hand as it is trying to pry the bar off the door so he can get inside the room, the size of his hand and arm are huge in relation to the women. This is shown both from the focus on his arm size against the bar they had placed there, and the size of the bugs as they are crawling through the hole, which are also quite huge for bugs but look much smaller compared to Pyramid Head’s arm. This was an effective way of emphasizing the threat of the situation if he was to gain access to the room.
Impact of Society
Silent Hill, at its core, is about how what we do can cause major harm to each other. This harm is never without its consequences, and this is made blindingly apparent as even the nurses in the hospital are bound to the consequences of the town because of what happened to one little girl. The nurse, Lisa, highlighted by her red sweater and red pumps, is singled out as the main nurse that helped the first Alessa when she was severely burned. She was curious to see Alessa, it must be assumed that she wanted to see just how badly the girl was hurt, and was punished for that by having her eyes burned out of their sockets. This is shown to give an idea of where each monster originates from, each one was a person who is being punished in some way for something they have done. The janitor in the restroom is another prime example.
The religion theme is clear throughout the movie, taking on connotations that bring a chill to the spine of anyone aware of Wako and the outcome of that situation. The church is a place of refuge for the townspeople, and every time they hear the warning siren they hurry back to the church to pray, and hide from the corruption of the dark world. If they need to go out of the church they tend to do so in full biohazard suit, in a way making a monster of themselves in the process. Daliah in one scene tries to suggest that hiding in the church is actually the wrong thing to do, it may be what is keeping the horror from being able to do what it intends, causing them to be stuck forever in the horror world that has been created for them. Perhaps if they instead faced honestly what had happened and why they could potentially be released from the dark world, but instead they hide from the consequences of their actions.
The genre for this movie is horror, it could possibly be further characterized as psychological horror. It uses a lot of conceptualization, needing quite a bit of explanation for the viewers to understand what is going on, but the horror is built up in layers and is very effective. The skin crawling visual effects of the dark world, combined with the creepy disfigured monsters found in that world, make a very powerful combination. The story itself is a tale of human fallibilities, and religious fanaticism taken to an extreme. When you find out what happened to Alessa to cause her to create this horror of a world you cannot fail to be sympathetic to what she went through, even as you have to consider her actions maybe a step too far.
Film Criticism and Analysis
This movie has had a hard road to follow. It needed to be accessible to an audience that knew nothing about the game it came from, while still being faithful to that game and not alienating its core fan base. The main alterations of a mother searching for her daughter, and the sky being ash due to underground, continual fires rather than unexplained snow, served the function of not needing further explanation for new audiences while not being out of the question changes for most of the fan base. It did seem to work, giving an explanation for the weather change and search for a lost child without too much backstory. More people complained about the ash change than the gender switch. Overall the story contained just enough iconic images to satisfy the many of the fans. It also contained some very powerfully shown and shared human issues. Prejudice, abuse, social and religious persecution and most notably, revenge, are all starkly portrayed, along with the idea that we will all eventually live in the hell we personally create due to how we deal with each other.
However it ultimately failed in trying to bring new fans into the storyline without alienating the old. Instead it created a monster of a plot with little explanation for most changes, leaving gaps between what former fans understood and what was explained in the movie. This created a huge gap of understanding between movie fans and game fans, one that was difficult to explain and instead created more confusion. It doesn't help that a huge part of the backstory of the game was revealed in tiny little details that would only begin to make sense after a lot of exploration, something you have time to do in detail in a game setting but can be difficult to recreate in a movie. Instead of drugs from a local flower, there was a coal mine. Instead of a religious fanatic of a mother who is trying to evoke god from her daughter, you have a religious fanatic leader scared of a little girl who she believes is a demon. Instead of creating a story that is more easy to follow, we have a story that is nearly crippled under unexplained changes.
This was a brilliant movie in style, music and message. It is too bad it had so much to go on as under other circumstances this probably would have made the top of the list in horror movies. However it never quite made its way from the source material. In this case the source was more of a rock around the director’s neck than it was a solid foundation for the director to build from. The references to the game, rather than tie the movie back to the source and serve as a nod to the fans, instead seemed to weigh the movie back down to its foundations. One could argue that Roger Avary would have been better served to have used the story as a foundation, and found his own portion of the story to discuss out of the original. Instead his changes from the original storyline, while still attempting to remain faithful to the essence of the Silent Hill gameplay, backfired in that it alienated the fans of the game while still forming a story that was somewhat confusing to newcomers. I still loved this movie, and I would recommend it to fans of the horror genre. Just leave your understanding of Silent Hill at home.