Saturday, April 22, 2006

REVIEW: Silent Hill

SPOILERS herein. Warned, you have been.

You're the adoptive parent of a young child, who is suffering from reccurring nightmares. During these nightmares, you discover, she often sleepwalks into life-threatening situations and randomly screams the name of a small, isolated coal-mining town in Virginia. You Google this place, and discover that it is an infamous "ghost town," abandonned and in decay, imperiled by stilll-burning underground fires, the site of some horrible unspoken tragedy.

Do you:
A.) Research the matter further, so as to discover exactly what is going on?
B.) Contact professionals and experts in such matters?
C.) Take the kid, get in your car and drive there in the middle of the night, even if you have to crash through a gate and outrun a police officer to do so because you're just that curious?

As "Silent Hill" is a horror film of the supernatural variety, and such films can rarely function under the strictures of hard logic, you'll probably be unsurprised to learn that Rose DaSilva (Rhada Mitchell) promptly opts for "C" when her adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) nearly sleepwalks herself off a cliff while babbling about the titular burg. Such seeming lapses in basic human logic would be the death knell for film's concerned with the realm of reality... fortunately, for itself and for it's audience; "Silent Hill" is concerned with no such thing. Resting comfortably at the intersection of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, this is a film that takes possibilities that it's events may (or may not) be occuring at the behest of a semi-omnipotent demonic force as a license to hitch the bulk of it's narrative to dream logic. Nightmare logic, really...

This openly-acknowledged break with the constraints of the real are helpful to a film which aims to unsettle with warped rythyms of time and space, and horrify with the images revealed therein. There are sights and sounds in "Silent Hill" so fearsome that the fact that many of them can't possibly be real offers no sense of reassurance: Since the whole film is fixed in unreality, that makes them possibly as real as anything else going on... I can't quite explain why "Pyramid Head" is so scary, he just is. (That'll make more sense once you see it)

It also, it has to be said, allows for ample wiggle room as the film works to reconcile it's present as a narrative film with it's origins as an interactive video game. For awhile, it's principal players spend an intriguing amount of time (for a horror film) digging through drawers, memorizing maps, piecing together clues and negoiating mazes, corridors and awkward platforms invariably set above deep chasms. In tandem, director Christophe Gans (late of his masterpeice "Brotherhood of The Wolf,") works himself raw recreating the game's unique camera angles and visual scheme. To fans of the game, these will be knowing nods ("ha! they got the flashlight!") while to the casual audience they aim to alternately serve as further moments of disorientation and overall weirdness.

Not that it's DEVOID of story: Following a near-miss car crash, Rose wakes up in Silent Hill to find Sharon missing, and takes off after her into the seemingly-deserted town. She's soon backed-up by a tough lady cop (a butched-up Laurie Holden), who at first plans to leave but finds that rather impractical: The roads into and out-of town have been blocked by huge, bottomless canyons that... ulp... weren't there a minute ago...

This isn't good for them, as Silent Hill is somewhere you don't want to be stuck for any period of time: It's trapped in perpetual fog, and eerie ashes constantly fall from the sky. Periodically, an air-raid siren blows, and the whole place turns into an even worse version of itself; one made out of flame, barbed-wire and rust... and crawling with horrible monsters of all shapes and sizes. Meanwhile, Rose's husband Christopher (Sean Bean) also searches Silent Hill for her in yet another version. Uh-oh...

This all has something to do with vengeance from beyond the grave, alternate realities, religious fanatacism and the reccurring nugget about Silent Hill's founders being self-appointed Witch Hunters in addition to miners and, truth be told, it eventually makes a decent amount of sense at least in terms of the rules it writes for itself. In practical terms, it's successful in creating solid rationale for it's heroes to continually find themselves trapped in dark, hopeless situations and threatened by snarling beasties, which is about the most you can reasonably ask of it. That it's visually gorgeous, mentally engaging and glued together by some pretty powerful themes and interesting ideas (once "everything" is revealed, at least.)

Most importantly, it's the first horror film in awhile that understands how to be both gory AND genuinely scary: Scenes during "The Darkness," wherein the monster creeping up behind you is only slightly more ghastly than the one standing in front of you, are nerve-shreddingly scary; while in other scenes Gans piles on the viscera and vomit as though hoping to out-gun "The Story of Ricky" as the bloodiest movie of all time. At least two "kills" are instant Fangoria photo-spread classics, and the prolonged "all hell breaks loose" climax is reminiscient of legendary horror finales found in the likes of "Dead Alive" or "Society."

If you're any kind of horror fan, "Silent Hill" DEMANDS your attention. Reccomended.

FINAL RATING: 8/10