Monday, October 8, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 07: Silent Hill

When writing a story choosing where the action takes place is all important. Some great films have used unusual settings to emphasise key points in the plot, like Dawn of the Dead occurring in a shopping mall of all places, Devil taking place in a lift, and The Haunting in Connecticut happening in... well, Connecticut.

Based on the video game of the same name, Silent Hill (2006) kicks off with a young girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) off out sleepwalking one night. Her mother Rose (Radha Mitchell) and her dad Christopher (Sean Bean no less) chase after her across roads and fields and when they final catch up to her she's murmuring the words "Silent Hill" in her sleep. It turns out that this is a frequent occurrence and poor old Sharon is always banging on about Silent Hill without understanding why she's doing it.

Rose and Chris, who it turns out are not Sharon's biological parents but rather adopted Sharon not too long ago, are getting rightly pissed off that the kid they got is turning out to be faulty. Chris wants to bring the girl to the doctors as he thinks she's just a little bit loopy and some nice pharmaceuticals will sort her out. Rose, on the other hand, thinks there's more to this whole Silent Hill thing and begins to look into what it means. Discovering a that Silent Hill is actually a town not too far away, Rose sets off with Sharon one day to see what she can find out.

Silent Hill turns out to be an abandoned mining town, abandoned due to the massive subterranean mine fire that has been raging for the past thirty years. Rose manages to arose the suspicions of a local bike cop, Cybil Bennet (Laurie Holden) who follows her into the town. On the way in both Rose and the cop suffer separate accidents and awake to find themselves stuck in Silent Hill as fog and ash obscures everything, with young Sharon missing.

Rose begins to search for Sharon and as she looks around the town she discovers that Silent Hill is not exactly deserted, the inhabitants aren't all exactly human, and that there's a very sinister link between her daughter and that strange town.

Sean Bean in a stunning career move, not dying in a film

Any film based on a video game is going to have a hard time to get passed the material that inspired it as fans of that game are going to make up the first section of the audience that the film makers are aiming for. This is a bit of an odd idea when you think about it. If you're a big fan of a game you know its story, and if you're any good at it (or just plugged away it it for long enough) then you know how the story ends. For those not familiar with the game, like me, any film has to stand or fall on it's own merits, and in the case of Silent Hill it falls with a big splat.

Silent Hill is one of those tragically shit films that took a solid idea and wiped it's arse with it. The basic storyline isn't spectacular really, just a bunch of odd goings on in a remote town with a relatively mundane cause behind them, but what was a brilliant plot device was setting the action in a town evacuated because of a mine fire. You see, there really is a town like that, though it's not called Silent Hill, in fact it's really called Centralia and it was the other inspiration behind the film.

A ghost town is a magnificently creepy setting for a horror film made even better with the addition of the fires of hell literally burning under the ground and spewing out poisonous gases everywhere. With a location like that you'd imagine that any old gobshite would be able to make a scary movie there, but the gobsites they got for Silent Hill weren't any old gobshites, they were the extra special Hollywood kind that can ruin anything.

Silent Hill is basically a filmed version of a video game complete with CGI monsters at every turn, platforms and obstacles to be overcome, and even end of level bosses to be defeated. This video game style narrative leaves nothing surprising in the plot and so Silent Hill is in no way frightening. There are a couple of decent gory bits, usually revolving around people either on fire or having been on fire but there's no scare worth mentioning and nothing to make you jump.

The performances are shoddy in the extreme, with not even Sean Bean able to elevate this crap-fest despite his best efforts at an American accent (which is always funny to hear him do). Silent Hill is notable for the fact that at no point in the film does Sean Bean's character die, which is one of the few horror aspects present in the whole sorry effort. The only other cast members worth mentioning are Laurie Holden as the cop as she plays Andrea in The Walking Dead, and Alice Krige as the head baddie as she was in Star Trek: First Contact though I only mention these two for the trivia factor as they were as bad as everyone else in Silent Hill.

Silent Hill is a terrible film, but worse then that, it's a real missed opportunity; the team behind the film had the chance to make a defining ghost town film with an excellent setting but went for the easy option and simply made the film of the game. However, they have hopefully inspired someone else to take a look at a mine fire town to set a horror film in, and that tiny sliver of hope is the only thing keeping Silent Hill from the very bottom of the barrel.

Two Thumbs Down for Silent Hill.

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