As a lifelong horror buff, I am not ashamed to admit that I will see every last, stupid piece of scary crud that hits theaters, no matter how ridiculous or insipid it looks. Okay, I am ashamed -- but even though I'm now in my mid-thirties, I just can't shake the urge to plunk down $10 bucks to see even the lamest remake/sequel/ripoff, all in the desperate hope that it will give me the same child-like thrill I used to get from the horror films of my youth. Yes, I willingly paid to see/rent such recent mind-rotting travesties as 'The Fog,' 'Venom,' 'Pulse' and 'I Always Know What You Did Last Summer,' even though I knew they would be absolute turds. So it is saying something that when 'Silent Hill' hit theaters earlier this year, even I stayed away. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me for the 1,234th time, shame on me.
Turns out I was, if not entirely wrong about 'Silent Hill,' then maybe suffering from a temporarily case of horror flick burn-out. Because when I finally sat down to watch the movie for the first time on Blu-ray, I was thoroughly entertained if not pleasantly surprised. No, 'Silent Hill' is not a great movie, or even a particularly good one. But it does boast strong production values, solid acting, an intriguing premise and oodles of atmosphere. Which is all even more surprising given that 'Silent Hill' is based on a videogame, which never exactly inspires confidence.
Despite its PlayStation origins, 'Silent Hill' really falls under the subgenre of horror I like to call the "Crazy Shit" movie, wherein a protagonist visits some sort of creepy town/house/foreign location, which is really a gateway to another world full of scary creatures and bizarre goings-on. There is also inevitably a Deep Dark Secret that must be unraveled, and which of course will somehow tie into the protagonist's tragic backstory, usually involving the recent death/disappearance of a loved one. Very 'Twilight Zone' in nature, but usually with more elaborate special effects, a few of the most notable "Crazy Shit" movies include ''Jacob's Ladder,' 'Suspiria,' 'In the Mouth of Madness' and perhaps the most popular recent example, 'The Ring.' I don't think 'Silent Hill' is really up to the caliber of most of those films, but at least it is better than 'The Butterfly Effect.'
In 'Silent Hill,' the crazy shit starts happening only minutes in. Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) is at her wit's end. Her adopted nine-year-old daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) has been suffering from increasingly erratic sleepwalking episodes, punctuated by self-destructive behavior and violent rantings of "Silent Hill!" Refusing to give up, Rose researches the name and discovers that Silent Hill was once indeed a real place, but is now a long-abandoned ghost town (thank god for MapQuest!) Against the advice of her estranged husband Christopher (Sean Bean), Rose takes Sharon to Silent Hill in the hope of curing her trauma. Big mistake. No sooner than you can say "The Midwich Cuckoos," Rose and Sharon are plunged into a bizarre netherworld, a CGI-fueled cross between The Town That Time Forgot and the videogame Doom. As Rose desperately searches for her daughter, she is plunged into a Kaftkaesque nightmare, and must uncover the link between Sharon and the cursed history of Silent Hill that is not as tenuous as it at first seemed.
Is 'Silent Hill' scary? Not really. At least for me, freaky monsters and creepy production design just don't cut it -- I can never fully buy into these alternate, fantastical universes, so it is hard for me to feel terror on any real, believable level. (I certainly never worry when I go to sleep at night that some four-headed monster is going to leap out of my closet and bite my head off.) Admittedly, most of the plethora of outlandish creatures in 'Silent Hill' do serve the plot in some manner, though a few seem thrown in just to sell more videogames. The film also begins to buckle under the weight of the confining conventions of videogame genre, namely that the heroine must run from one battle scene to the next, usually uncovering a clue to the mystery in each, but with little time for character development. I've always liked Mitchell as an actress, but here her role is totally reactive. We know little about her at the beginning, and hardly much more by the end. She is determined, intelligent and likable, but there is only so much you can do when the majority of your screen time is spent inventing new terrified facial expressions while standing in front of a green screen.
However, 'Silent Hill' does work quite well as a mood piece. It is all about atmosphere, and even if its final revelations are hardly worth of a middling episode of 'The Outer Limits,' at least it kept me immersed in its fantasy world during its overlong 127-minute runtime. It was also nice that, for once in a videogame-based movie, the protagonist had no weapons of mass destruction at her disposal. Rose is just an ordinary woman trapped in some extraordinary (and seriously fucked up) circumstances, so however farfetched the premise is, at least it is easier to root for her than The Rock with a machine gun. Still, 'Silent Hill' is hard to really recommend unless you are a serious fan of horror movies, or just dig the videogame. So if you are in the mood for a spooky, if largely incomprehensible, evening of CGI monsters and Radha Mitchell screaming "Sharon!" for two hours, 'Silent Hill' is your movie.
'Silent Hill' is quite a visually stunning picture, full of fantastical images and imaginative production design. This Blu-ray release had its work cut out for it, and despite some rough spots does justice to the movie's considerable aesthetic strengths. This transfer is often terrific in spots, though due to the source material, can be wildly inconsistent in detail and clarity.
As you would expect for a new release, the source material is in great shape. Though the film is dark, heavily processed and full of CGI effects, it does not look grainy or soft, and shadow delineation can be exemplary even in the darkest scenes. Colors are also excellent, with a rich saturation that doesn't appear overcooked (however unrealistic it might be). Contrast is intentionally heightened which does cause some blooming in the whites, but for the most part it is not severe enough to hamper detail. The film also possesses a great sense of depth and three-dimensionality in many scenes, giving 'Silent Hill' the eye-popping "wow" factor of the best high def .
Unfortunately, scenes often vary wildly in detail, even from shot to shot -- it is liking looking out a picture-perfect window and then suddenly having to squint through a fuzzy piece of gauze. While colors and blacks remained stable throughout, compression artifacts are sometimes apparent -- noise of varying size can sometimes dull the film's striking visual imagery. A bit of a roller-coaster, but 'Silent Hill' overall delivers a solid transfer of difficult source material.
Sony has done quite a fine job delivering impressive uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround tracks on its Blu-ray releases, and 'Silent Hill' is no exception. But this one is especially well done, with some highly immersive effects that makes full use of the 360-degree soundfield.
Finally, here is a film that understands the word "atmosphere." Even during some of the quietest scenes the surrounds really feel alive. I especially liked the opening scenes when Radha Mitchell first enters Silent Hill -- the uses of subtle effects cues and the ambient score are nicely distributed to the rears, and the sense of movement and tight imaging between channels is very effective. The action scenes are just as aggressive, with frequent "whoosh" pans of effects and even a few cool moments where a sound runs a complete circle around the listener. The soundtrack's technical specs are also well up to snuff, with very wide frequency response and excellent low bass extension. Dialogue is also well recorded and nicely balanced in the mix, with only a couple of odd moments where I had to boost my volume a tad to compensate for overly loud effects.
Though the standard DVD of 'Silent Hill' comes packed with extras, Sony was not able to squeeze even a simple trailer onto the Blu-ray version. Damn those single-layer, BD-25 discs!
'Silent Hill' is an intriguing 'Twilight Zone'-like, videogame/movie hybrid. It's filled with crazy imagery and powered by a fairly intriguing whodunit (or, rather, whatdunit). Granted, it is too long in runtime and too short on compelling characters, but if you're a fan of horror flicks like 'The Ring' and 'Constantine' you'll probably dig it. Alas, Sony has dropped all of the supplements from the standard-def release, which makes this a tough recommend despite the healthy transfer and soundtrack. Worth a rent for genre buffs, though.