years ago some friends and I shared rent on a dingy practice space with one of
those goth/metal bands that now litter MySpace. You know the ones: homemade
backdrop with thorny roses, economy size mascara. They left their lyric book on
an amp one day and we had a ball reading it. I don’t remember much, because
after ‘Welcome to my world/it is dark/dark/dark‘ I was laughing too hard. Guess
I should have been taking notes instead of potshots, since those kids
apparently got to make the Silent Hill movie
and I’m just stuck writing the review.

send that email just yet — I know the movie was really directed by Christophe
Gans from a script credited to Roger Avary. (Though I wouldn’t have believed
that even Avary would cop to something this soggy.) Silent Hill loosely
adapts the game’s storyline, but expends all its energy on atmosphere, relying
on hilariously bad dialogue about fire and witches to tie it together.

Gans jarringly
opens in medias res on Rose de Silva
frantically looking for her somnambulant daughter Sharon while husband Chris
putters ineffectually in the background. As Rose, Radha Mitchell looks frantic
and screams ‘Sharon!’ a lot; Tideland‘s Jodelle Ferland looks
blankly creepy; as dad, Sean Bean seems to be looking more for a better movie
than for his daughter.

everyone was pretty satisfied with how that first scene turned out, because
that’s what they do for the rest of the movie.

whisks Sharon away to Silent Hill, a ghost town the girl has spoken of in her
sleep. She runs across suspicious but ultimately helpful cop Cybill (Laurie
Holden) while Chris follows, only to run across Kim Coates, a far less helpful
cop. Note that Silent Hill is very explicitly located in West Virginia, but only
one member of the cast even makes a pass at an Appalachian twang.

Saying something
ain’t right in Silent Hill would be as obvious as whispering ‘bad career move’
to Radha Mitchell. It rains ash, for one. Then there are the demented residents
and the darkness that periodically takes over, allowing creatures to run riot.
Don’t even get me started on the crazy enforcer with the triangular metal
helmet bearing a sword that would make Cloud
feel inferior.

As the town’s
weirdo residents emerge, they mutter in dark tones about fire and the soul in a
way that even the bad goth band would scorn as too obvious. Their dialogue points
eventually to a hideously juvenile anti-religious story that never has any
useful bearing on the story of Rose and Sharon.

But then,
nothing in this movie has much bearing on anything else. Characters like Bean’s
and Coates’ are orphaned; creatures are introduced then just as quickly
forgotten. There’s no flow, no tension and no reason. Silent Hill is a
dreamlike smear of ideas that would tax a maestro like Lynch or Jodorowski; Gans
doesn’t have a chance. And the only scary bit is that a major studio would let
this edit off the lot.

I cringe
at following the inevitable pack to deride Silent Hill for blatantly betraying
its video game origins — I don’t think ‘video game’ has to be a cinematic
pejorative — but that’s exactly what it does. So much so that watching it is
like clicking on some guy’s video walkthrough of the game on Youtube. The second
act even ends with a chunk of exposition that would be a hard-won cutscene in
the game; here it’s just lazy storytelling, and you’ll probably have figured it
all out already.

Rose runs
around, finds a weapon, uses it to solve a puzzle, loses the weapon, runs
around some more and generally behaves like anything but a grown woman with a
really serious task to perform. Anyone who’s played an action/adventure video
game will recognize the patterns at once. But in games, there’s a sense of
personal involvement that here is replaced only with boredom.

Sure, the
creatures look fairly good, but they’re totally ineffectual onscreen. Gans
seems to know this, and just turns up the volume, substituting onscreen screams
for our own. He remembers that audio was a big part of the game’s success, but
doesn’t seem to understand why.

As in the
game, there’s an undeniable visual appeal. The ashy/foggy streets look cool,
and the town’s dark, bloodied underbelly is almost creepy. But without a sense
of purpose, it’s just window dressing. There are a few moments of real violence
to placate an audience looking for blood, but only at the end does the film
really cut loose. The climactic sequence delivers real shocks, not least among
them that a major studio would pay for an anti-religious movie in which barbed
wire finally gets to taste woman’s forbidden fruit.

don’t mistake that cryptic description of horror for a veiled recommendation.
Silent Hill isn’t a horror movie, or (as some suggest) a take on mystery a la Jacob’s
. It’s just a long string of events that mean little on their
own, and even less when taken in one two-hour gulp.

3.5 out of 10