Sunday, October 01, 2006

Silent Hill

There is a direct relationship between your level of expectation of a movie, and how much you actually enjoy the experience of watching it. Consider, if you will, the Star Wars prequels, and the level of excitement that greeted their release - you can picture the uber-nerds in Chewbacca costumes and sleeping bags, queueing impatiently on sidewalks outside theaters in Hicksburg, U.S.A., shivering in the cold six weeks before release of Star Wars Episode I.. Even the guy in the Boba Fett outfit at the top of that queue couldn't help but be a little disappointed when he eventually got to see the actual movie.. I mean, it wasn't a bad film, but it wasn't, well it wasn't really all he hoped it would be...

Lessons can be learned from such experiences, and no matter how nerdy, they contain a lesson for us all.. Behold, the Lucas Principle of Movie Expectations: "expect not, and ye shall not be disappointed!"

The Lucas Principle should be adopted liberally for anyone who decides to subject themselves to "Silent Hill". How low are your expectations? Really? That low? Well... you'd better think again... lower now... looower...

I'll be candid with you for a moment, I have dabbled with the odd video game in my murky past (it was in college! I never once inhaled though). The video game of Silent Hill is a creepy and atmospheric horror adventure, in which you play a character looking for his lost daughter in a mysteriously abandoned misty town covered with a pall of mist. At various points during the game, an alarm sounds, and the surroundings of Silent Hill metamorphose from a mildly sinister daytime environment into a dark claustrophobic mirror landscape, this one populated with a maze of rusting fences, shambling headless zombies and a fright literally around every corner.

Now, I'm fully aware that the history of game-to-movie conversions is littered with hard luck stories. (Super Mario Brothers, anyone!?) However, I enjoyed the game of Silent Hill so much, that when I heard a movie version was in the works, I found myself curious to see how the movie would look, and also found myself anticipating its release. Calm yourself, I would say in my best Obi-Wan impression (Alec Guinness that is) "use the Lucas Principle, keep those expectations looooow."

Now, there are certain things that the movie version of Silent Hill does extremely well. It is very faithful to the look and feel of the game, and the moments where the town morphs to and from the hellish demon-infested nightmare are special effects tours de force. Also, the town itself just is the same place from the game. The production design on this one did a really bang up job, with every set and location slickly put together, evoking memories from the game at every scene, at least in the first act.

The 'baddies' (yes it's that type of film, folks) in this one are also pretty nasty. One guy in particular (see the image I've copied in above) is really not very agreeable, and I suspect wasn't hugged as a child. He should take up squash or something, deal with his aggression in a more constructive way. However, the darkly constructed imagery of these 'bad guys' is at times quite effective.

On the downside, the plot bears all the hallmarks of a game to movie translation. Dialogue is used to either express high emotion, or move the story along. At no point do we feel like the characters in Silent Hill are anything more than agents of the story, accompanying us from the beginning to the end, but without ever revealing much about themselves. This makes it quite difficult to care about what type of fate eventually befalls them.

Also, and let's be honest here, you should probably only watch Silent Hill if you are a fan of horror movies, the scares in Silent Hill are very different from the traditional monster/slasher type you might expect. Rather than threatening us with glimpses of what horrors Silent Hill might have to offer, and revealing them to us gradually, we are instead thrown head first into the madness. As a result, we are exposed to the horrors of Silent Hill en masse, and by the time the film reaches it's bloody conclusion (admittedly an impressively nasty set piece) the audience will probably be a little de-sensitized to be genuinely frightened, and will most likely just be eager for the story to be resolved.

So it follows then that in a movie like this, the story needs to be strong. Unfortunately, although it's a half-decent yarn, in parts it's simply quite silly, resembling a ghost story written by an adolescent. This kind of tale might do well in Junior Certificate English (although the writer may be packed off to therapy!) but in the context of a movie for mature, (well, grown-up) people, it's not strong enough to justify spending the guts of a tenner to see it unfold.

Sadly, even applying the Lucas Principle of Movie Expectations couldn't help me enjoy this one. Be stronger than I, young padowan, and give Silent Hill a wide berth.

Verdict: Polished but silly. Excellent special effects can't make up for the weak story.
Result: 3/10

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