Based on the popular video game of the same name, Silent Hill didn’t quite revolutionize the cinematic world of video game adaptations like a lot of people had hoped it would. Regardless, Christopher Gans (the director of Brotherhood of the Wolf) did craft an exceptionally eerie and atmospheric picture, even if a lot of it feels like an exercise in style over substance.
The film follows Rose (Radha Mitchell), a woman who is understandably concerned about her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) thanks to a pesky series of recurring nightmares. In hopes of helping her daughter figure out why these dreams keep coming back, she ditches her husband and decides to take Sharon to an abandoned coal mining town named Silent Hill as this seems to be where these horrible dreams are stemming from. One wrong move results in a high speed pursuit by way of a lady motorcycle cop and before you know it, Rose has wrecked her SUV. When she wakes up Sharon has gone missing.
As she sets out into what is left of Silent Hill, strange things start to happen. Thankfully, Cybil (Laurie Holden), the lady cop, shows up and eventually Rose is able to convince her that she’s not a criminal and the two team up to find Sharon. The deeper they go into the heart of the town the more unusual things get until everything comes full circle and the mystery of the town and of Sharon’s dreams are explained – but not in the way you’d expect them to be.
Silent Hill seems to have caused a bit of a rift in fandom. There are those who appreciate the fantastic visuals and chillingly creative sound mix and who opt to enjoy the film as a nightmare come to life – then there are those who feel it strayed too far from the source material and that the video game is a far more satisfying experience. Anytime something is adapted for the big screen there are bound to be those who are disappointed by the results, so this is to be expected to a certain extent, but the fact of the matter is that Silent Hill is a very well made film. You can argue the merits of the ending all you want – there’s some wiggle room there – but the movie looks fantastic and there are some truly disturbing moments here. The art direction is fantastic and if it is style over substance as many claim, so much the better when the style is this macabre. The empty town, the horrors that lay below the ground, the undead creatures that come out to play and the strange group of miscreants and the church they hide out in all come together to make for wild ride for both the ears and the eyes.
Could the film have been better? Certainly. The story could have been tighter, the ending more coherent and in tune with the build up, and at times things could have been cleaned up a bit in the editing room, but even with these flaws the film is well acted and it does contain some solid scares. If you’re able to put aside whatever preconceived notions that playing the game may have slipped into your psyche and enjoy the movie on its own as a stand alone story, Silent Hill comes out on top.
Sony has done a nice job on the presentation for this release though one can’t help but wonder if there will be a double dip down the road. The anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer looks sharp even if the black levels could have been stronger (things look murky in a few scenes and there are some compression artifacts). The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is completely engrossing and very aggressive making excellent use of the rear channels and the subwoofer to build all kinds of atmosphere and accent a few solid jump scares. Aside from a few trailers for a handful of other Sony genre properties (though the Silent Hill trailers is conspicuously absent), the only extra is a documentary entitled Path of Darkness: The Making of Silent Hill. Thankfully it’s quite in depth and at almost an hour in length it does a good job of covering casting, source material, special effects, location and set design and more. A commentary with Gans or the cast would have been very welcome but the behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews contained in this piece do a fine job of explaining the origins of the film.