Format: DVD from Earlville Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen
Movie adaptations of video games have a pretty sorry reputation, and with good reason. They are generally terrible. Even the best of them either aren’t that good or approach decency by being more tangentially related to the game in question. Because I don’t tend to watch this end of the movie spectrum, I don’t get to talk about my past that much. I worked in the game industry for about a dozen years. I edited a PC gaming magazine for a while and I wrote about three dozen strategy guides, mostly for Prima, and none after 2003 (think original Xbox days). I should be (or should have been) more or less the target audience for these, and a film like Silent Hill would seem to be a natural.
Well, for what it’s worth, after 1996 I didn’t really play much that I wasn’t specifically paid to play. I didn’t do the book for Silent Hill (the closest I got thematically was probably Clive Barker’s Undying), so I went into the movie more or less cold. I specialized in PC games, so Silent Hill was never really on my radar. Anyway, I knew little more than “survival horror,” so it is in my wheelhouse both in terms of games I played/wrote about and movies I like. I went into this cautiously optimistic.
Anyway, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), the adopted daughter of Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Christopher Da Silva (Sean Bean) has been having nightmares and wandering off. When confronted, she screams about going home to Silent Hill, an abandoned town in West Virginia. Silent Hill was a mining town, but an accident created an out of control coal fire that still burns underground. The word on the ghost town is that nothing good happens there, but Rose and Sharon head off despite Christopher’s objections. And, naturally, it goes badly. Rose has a minor accident in the car, Sharon wanders off, and it’s soon evident that they are trapped in some sort of strange and terrible loop of time and space.
As Rose explores the area, she is joined by Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), a police officer who initially tries to arrest Rose until she realizes just how bad things really are in the abandoned town. We’ll also meet Dahlia (Deborah Kara Unger), the mother of a young girl and Christabella (Alice Krige), the leader of a fanatical cult of people who still live in this otherworldly version of Silent Hill. Back in the real world. Christopher explores the uninhabited version of the town with local officer Thomas Gucci (Kim Coates), who often comes across as creepy, although that might just be the fact that it’s Kim Coates playing the role.
One of the problems with turning a game into a movie is that the two things aren’t the same thing. The way we learn the story of a movie is completely different from how we deal with learning the story in a game. Silent Hill essentially has Rose Da Silva following the plot of the game, wandering around the town of Silent Hill looking for clues. “Okay,” you think, “but there’s a way that that could make sense.” And it would, if these were a game. But it’s not. We have no reason for Rose to think that she needs to be tracking her daughter by looking for clues. Somehow, Rose just knows that when she finds something, it will become relevant in the story. That’s the way the game works, so that’s the way the movie works.
It’s additionally an issue because the game takes a substantial amount of time to get through (I assume), and while a lot of that is going to be spent fighting creatures, some of it is going to be devoted to the story of the game and getting through the plot in those moments where you are not fighting for your life. Since our main character isn’t armed and isn’t going to be armed in general, the combat incidents are going to be pretty one-sided. Even the addition of our cop character only brings in a pistol with a few clips. So, while the game is a lot of combat, the movie is going to be a lot of not-combat.
And ultimately, that’s the problem here. There is a plot, but it’s one that should unfold over the course of gameplay and over an investment in time. A movie doesn’t have that luxury, so the story here happens quickly and unintelligibly in a lot of ways. If you know the game, you probably have no real trouble following the plot. If you don’t know the story of the game, a lot of this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I wanted to like Silent Hill more than I did. It’s not terrible, but it’s not going to get people to make more video game movies.
Why to watch Silent Hill: It’s actually a decent adaptation of a video game to movie.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t make a great deal of sense.