Dark, moody, and, from what I gather, painstakingly faithful to the source material, this adaptation of the classic Konami video game for PS 1 has a mother take her adopted daughter to the titular town, which she keeps mentioning in her dreams, before crashing and losing her in the night. I had heard that the film is almost painfully slow, bordering on deathly boring, and I have to say, this says much more about the state of current filmgoing audiences than it does for the actual content of this film. Without giving anything away, this is a very moody, slow-build horror movie, way more fast-paced than something like House of the Devil, and more inventively and elementally terrifying than any of the Saw films. Rare for a videogame adaptation, the emphasis is way more on exploration than action; gunfire and actual violence are sporadic, and are the exception to the norm. The film primarily derives its scares from the dark, ash-snowing ghost town, with its endless haunted corners and hollowed-out, morally vacuous infrastructure. Parallel to the mother-daughter story is the father’s plotline, as he searches for hints of their whereabouts and, later, the true origin of Silent Hill’s ghost-town state. It is a testament to the film’s script (co-written by Pulp Fiction Oscar winner Roger Avary) that this side-plot does not relieve the tension of watching Radha Mitchell’s poor mother flounder about in the darkness, eschewing her own terror at her surroundings for her steadfast determination to reclaim her child. The buildup is as satisfying as the conclusion, and the film never relents its haunting, pitch-black mood until about halfway through the closing credits.
The performances in the film are actually shockingly good for a video game adaptation. Radha Mitchell, once again, as in Pitch Black, spending a lot of time blindly walking around in darkness, is absolutely phenomenal as the determined mother. Spending whatever time she is not completely silent and alone delivering various variations on “What is this place?”, she manages to turn what could have been a hollow, lifeless leading role into a living, breathing protagonist, one whose need to regain her child is sufficient to justify the rest of the film revolving around her. Sean Bean is also a strong, well-rendered father figure, for once not being forced to, halfway through the script, commit some terrible act and announce his true, malicious intentions. Kim Coates, Alice Kirge, Deborah Kara Unger, and, especially, Laurie Holden, all genre veterans, are terrific in their respective roles, and help render the smotheringly lifeless, violent world of the film. The real star of the show, however, is its director, Brotherhood of The Wolf’s (Le Pacte Des Loups) Christophe Gans. The color palette, the deathly still mood, and the shockingly horrifying, skin-crawling scares are all due to Gans’ faith in the script and the source material. A lesser director could’ve had a blast infusing the film with fancy-schmancy editing tricks and wall-to-wall death scenes to show the evil lurking around the corner, rather than giving the audience’s imagination all the faith it requires to fill in the blanks of their own, particular nightmare world. To say that the fact that Gans has made two films in the past 10 years (both terrific) is a shame is an understatement; when Saw and Final Destination entries, as well as half-baked, diluted remakes, come out seemingly two at a time, the idea that both Gans and House of the Devil’s Ti West have such a hard time getting their fully-realized visions on the screen is, for a genre fan, a real tragedy. The fact that this is the most faithful video game adaptation I have heard of is almost a moot point; when this film is accused of being “too boring” and Tomb Raider is accused (correctly) of being “too stupid and action-y”, one can infer that devout faithfulness will not only fail to impress gamers, but will, usually, actively turn off non-gamers. This is the unfortunate situation that leads to “how did they fuck that up?” product like Max Payne (which, for some reason, rewrote its already perfectly film-ready plotline), Street Fighter (where no one fights in the streets), and Uwe Boll’s films (of which, Postal, Bloodrayne, and Far Cry all had a shot of being interesting cinematic translations).
Highly Recommended for fans of slower, mood-based horror, including Silent Hill-era PS1 survival games like Resident Evil and Dino Crisis, or of Christophe Gans who, more than a lot of other, less deserving geek icons, warrants some hardcore, fan-driven support for his reliance on mood and lasting terror over instantly-dated, teen-orientated slicing and dicing. This lacks the intimate terror, and pin-dropping intensity, of House of the Devil, but it is miles better than any similarly ambitious or budgeted (there is some A+ scary CGI on display here) horror film in the years since its release.