The eerie and deserted town of Silent Hill draws a young mother desperate to find a cure for her only child's illness. Unable to accept the doctor's diagnosis that her daughter should be permanently institutionalized for psychiatric care, Rose (Radha Mitchell) flees with her child, heading for the abandoned town in search of answers, and ignoring the protests of her husband (Sean Bean).
It's soon clear this place is unlike anywhere she's ever been. It's smothered by fog, inhabited by a variety of strange beings, and periodically overcome by a living Darkness that literally transforms everything it touches. As Rose searches for her little girl, she begins to learn the history of the strange town and realizes that her daughter is just a pawn in a larger game.
As someone who has burnt away considerable hours of his life playing the Silent Hill video games, I was most impressed with how the film captured so many visuals of its source material. When Radha Mitchell's character first arrives at the ghost town and explores its foggy confines, we see sets like the decrepit schoolyard and the open garage recreated with unnerving accuracy. Even minor elements like the look of the walls and bus signs adhere to strict specifications, and memorable details like electronics crackling with the voices of otherworldly creatures are preserved (although the film substitutes a cell phone for an old radio).
The movie's faithful adaptation of the video game is generally a plus, even when it pays superficial homage--the camera occasionally shifts to a behind-the-back, overhead view of Mitchell as she runs through the city, recreating the view you would have in the video game. Even the crunching of her shoes is reminiscent of the film's playable counterpart. But this meticulous interpretation becomes a detriment when the story falls back on puzzle-solving subplots--Mitchell actually has to find keys and hidden rooms in her quest to solve the mystery of Silent Hill.
The movie could have used a bigger dose of the creepy atmospherics of its predecessor. The game's harrowing soundtrack (well worth the listen if you're in the mood for oppressive horror instrumentals) was a major ingredient in Silent Hill's successfully spooky formula, but it only makes a few noticeable appearances in the film. The best use of sound comes when a swarm of charred creatures crawls toward Mitchell as a cacophony of crying babies fills the air.
Silent Hill's weakest links are the convoluted plot twists involving one-dimensional religious fanatics and some densely melodramatic speeches. Mitchell and co-star Alice Krieg (so villainously intriguing as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact) are pitted against each other in a verbal duel highlighted by some cringe-inducing dialogue.
Fans of the Silent Hill video game and horror movies in general should be able to enjoy several moments throughout the film, despite the flaws of the script. There are some wicked moments of gore (one character gets skinned in a fluid motion, and their flesh subsequently splattered in gruesome fashion) and key special effects, like the darkness engulfing the city and transforming anything it touches, are quite eye-catching. As game adaptations go, you could easily do worse--this was a subgenre, after all, that produced Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and House of the Dead.
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