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Silent Hill by Christophe Gans (Dir.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Tri Star/Davis Films Film  
Date: April 21, 2006 / Show Official Info /

Cast: Radha Mitchell as Rose Da Silva * Sean Bean as Christopher Da Silva * Laurie Holden as Cybil Bennett * Deborah Kara Unger as Dahlia Gillespie * Alice Krige as Valtiel The Yellow God

Terrified by her adopted daughter Sharon's mental problems, which include dangerous bouts of sleepwalking while yelling the name of this movie, young mother Rose (Radha Mitchell from Finding Neverland) figures out that Silent Hill is the name of a ghost town in West Virginia, and drives there with Sharon, despite the protests of her husband, Sean (Boromir) Bean. As Rose approaches Silent Hill, an already dreamlike movie allows dream logic to take over entirely: to escape a pursuing motorcycle cop (for no apparent reason) Rose accelerates through gates blocking the road, then almost crashes after swerving violently to avoid running down a girl who looks just like Sharon. While Rose is momentarily unconscious, Sharon disappears; then Rose spends the rest of the movie searching for her, in an abandoned town populated by the ghosts of a witch-burning cult, who are locked into some kind of perpetual spiritual combat with a demonic figure, that embodies the rage of Sharon's long-lost twin, who got burned as a witch thirty years ago.

I went ahead and sort of gave away some of the end of the movie, which is actually backstory, and also I allowed that last sentence to get confusing and out of control, to try to recreate how it feels, when this pleasant if humorless uberGothy dark fantasy derails halfway through. Roger Avary, having badly bungled a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation (The Rules of Attraction), has taken the next logical step, in writing a bad screenplay from a cool videogame. His script works okay for the first hour, during which Sharon is the white rabbit leading Rose through a largely wordless and ferociously atmospheric nightmare-scape... an hour during which spoken dialogue is reduced to a functional minimum. However, when the movie finally corners itself into necessary explanations, and the characters start talking a lot, everything goes to hell in every sense.

Before that penultimate reel, crowded with bad dialogue and incoherent explanations, Silent Hill offers an hour of rock solid creepy trippy entertainment, remarkable for marvelously eerie atmosphere, held up by strong sexy performances from Ms. Mitchell and Laurie Holden as the lady cop, and punctuated by two or three of the most disturbing and frightening effects sequences I've seen in years. Under Gans' direction, cinematographer Dan Laustsen (who also shot the director's previous Le Pactes des Loups) and (Cronenberg's) production designer Carol Spier, supported by good digital effects and a striking musical score, have crafted a very good looking movie, despite a weak script, which is such a typical set of strengths and weaknesses for Hollywood pictures these days, that I ought to exert myself a little, and reduce it to a single adjective, for the betterment of movie reviewers everywhere. This is not to belittle a movie, which contains at least three nightmarish images I won't ever forget; nor to defend a picture that is so poorly written, it's just unacceptable.

As is my usual recommendation with such movies, those who believe style is substance are heartily invited; while those who crave real meat with their sauce – I mean, engaging characters and story, with their striking design and effects – are best advised to wait for Silent Hill on DVD, which will allow them to set the language track to something unfamiliar, avoid Avary's awful dialogue, and enjoy the movie a lot more. Certainly this is a more likable and interesting piece of work than any videogame adaptation really ought to be, and everyone who's into fantastic film should keep a close eye on Mr. Gans for the next couple of years – Silent Hill is exactly the kind of dues-paying work that allows a filmmaker like Gans to do something really interesting, next time out.

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