Silent Hills

My only video-gaming brush with Silent Hill is being to scared to play much of SH3. Well, that’s not quite right, I’ve read up on all the Silent Hill storylines on Wikipedia. Somehow I ended up in an enclosed space with the Silent Hill movies playing in front of me, and I didn’t cower behind the couch.

The strong points of both movies (and the games) are the superb atmosphere, the art design, and the set design. Silent Hill is a rust-covered purgatory infested by fleshy deformed humanesque creatures, and both movies nailed the sense of place – particularly the first. The iconic Silent Hill demon nurses were super – they were all dancers in piles of make-up rather than CGI, another goal for real sets and real actors – and Alessa’s room was terrifyingly creepy.

In the first movie, the protagonist Rose was about as stupid as any horror movie main character could be; Sean Bean was superfluous (apparently the studio forced him into the script, thinking they needed more male characters) and I kept expecting him to die (see all his other appearances); and there’s an unfortunate cop who gets pulled into the whole mess – didn’t quite understand her role in the story. The storyline roughly follows the main points of the first Silent Hill movie, with different “normal people” trapped in the town. It turns out that there are two factions within Silent Hill (one of them severely outmatched), but I didn’t realise that that the miners with their canaries weren’t on the side of the monsters for quite a while. At the time, the portrayal of the shift between normal Silent Hill and Hell Silent Hill was a big deal – it was something omitted from the games to communicate ambiguity of whether the hell realm was real or a dream, and the filmmakers were very proud of the visual effects. The famous Pyramid Head stalks the humans and kills a few of them with his trademark brutality.

The second movie takes a turn towards a more action-oriented style, adapting Silent Hill 3 (apparently game references abound). Here gore is shown head-on and less is left implied, which hurts the creepy atmosphere. On the other hand, it’s more like Heather is hallucinating rather than being transported.

Kit Harrington’s character is a much softer version of the original, and watching him I couldn’t stop thinking of Jon Snow instead. His presence took the edge off Heather being trapped in various infernal locales. Malcolm McDowell, Sean Bean and Carrie-Anne Moss also feature, but their talents are pretty much wasted here, as they get very little screen time and not much to do.

Once again, the demon nurses were awesome, but the Missionary demon didn’t look anywhere near tough enough. I disliked the role Pyramid Head played here – he was kind of like the Shrike in Endymion: a once-powerful destructive force now in service of reducing the tension. There’s a strange detour with a mannequin monster and two random victims – while the imagery is very creepy, the scene doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie.

So that’s Silent Hill and Silent Hill Revelations: some squandered opportunities; the first movie is better than the second, though both worth watching if you like the atmosphere. There haven’t been any more cult-related storylines in the more recent Silent Hill (and perhaps more importantly the franchise has died down), so I don’t expect to see any more movie adaptations.

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