[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1996, a team from Konami got together to create a Hollywood-like horror game. Some suspect they also wanted their own answer to Resident Evil. Strangely, the team who were attempting to come up with this game had been a team whose other projects never did well and actually planned on leaving Konami since they weren't able to assimilate into any other Konami groups, either. In fact, the group also had no idea how to move forward with Silent Hill besides their basic idea. However, while Konami wanted this high-profit, Hollywood-style game, the team decided to ignore them and do something a little more subdued, something that went for the emotions of the players instead.
Because of this, they went for something more psychological. Plot points were left ambiguous to keep players pondering things. The monsters themselves (including the famous Pyramid Head monster) are just physical representations of inner vices and/or turmoil of the primary characters. And the main character was even made an everyman to help the player really get attached to him and feel like you're the character rather than just playing a character. Funnily enough, to cover up a few questionable graphics, they added liberal uses of fog and darkness--which just ended up adding to the overall atmosphere of the original game.
The plot of the original game has you playing as Harry Mason, who is taking his daughter, Cheryl, on vacation around a town named Silent Hill. But on the way, he swerves to avoid hitting a ghostly apparition of a girl in the road and ends up in a wreck... and when he wakes up, Cheryl is gone. In an apparently empty, fog-heavy town, Harry ends up meeting with police officer Cybil Bennett, who also seems to be trapped in the town. He also ends up meeting a woman named Dahlia, who is the mother of the mother of Alessa, the ghostly girl from earlier and who he runs into a few more times. It turns out that Dahlia used her daughter in a cult ritual to become impregnated by their deity. But with Alessa fighting back, the birth doesn't happen and her soul ends up splitting in two--half of which is reincarnated into Cheryl, whom Harry and his wife adopted. And Dahlia has performed a spell to try and reunite the souls and birth the deity.
A few more games came out prior to the film release, but their stories aren't really necessary to know before discussing the film. So in the mid-2000s, production began on this film adaptation, and even before the release, there were some positives and negatives just from given information. The film gained director Christoph Gans, who worked on the lauded Brotherhood of the Wolf. It also got Roger Avary for a writer, who you may or may not know as the guy who worked with Quentin Tarantino. He received uncredited writing credits for both Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, and an actual writing credit for Pulp Fiction. All of this was rather positive. But then there was the news that this was going to be an entirely female cast. Normally one wouldn't see that as negative... except for the fact the main character is a dude. After a bit of the controversy spread and there was some backlash from the production company, Sean Bean's role was expanded. But would that actually help or hurt the movie? Let's find out...
I'm not a super fan of the games. I've tried to play the first one, but I didn't care for the controls and found it way too difficult because of that. However, I love the idea behind the games and the stories they present. So not only did I see this in theater, but I've been waiting for the sequel since the second it ended. Fortunately that sequel is finally hitting at the end of this year... let's just hope it fulfills my reasoning for wanting it. The film follows Rose (Radha Mitchell), who leaves behind her husband, Christopher (Sean Bean), and takes their adopted daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), off to Silent Hill. She takes her to this renowned ghost town because Sharon keeps having nightmares about it. But after a wreck, Rose wakes up to a fog-filled town and Sharon missing. And something in the town is not right. Every now and then a siren sounds and darkness spreads... and disturbing monsters appear. To help her through it is a police officer, Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), who followed her there. While they try to find Sharon and stay alive, Christopher teams up with Officer Gucci (Kim Coates)--who seems to know a lot more than he's letting on--to find Rose and Sharon, who don't seem to be in Silent Hill at all. The film also stars Deborah Kara Unger as Dahlia and Alice Krige as Christabella.
This is pretty easily one of the best video game movies available. Not only is it overall well made, but it's a pretty good adaptation. Does it follow the story of the game exactly? No. It takes its liberties--particularly in changing the main character and a couple names, as well as the backstory. But to me, the story still works and the mystery is strong enough to keep you intrigued until everything comes together near the end.
What really makes this film work is its look and atmosphere--even people who don't like the movie admit to how good it looks. First and foremost, Christoph Gans got the visuals down perfectly. The fog. The town itself. Both really look great and give a creepy atmosphere. And then the monsters themselves were done incredibly well. Taking a play out of the Del Toro playbook, Gans decided to take the "guys in suits" approach. In fact, the CGI in the film is only "as necessary," which was a fantastic move. The burning children, the armless man, Colin the Janitor (who has one of the best moments in the movie), the Nurses (another great moment), and Pyramid Head himself are all done practically, and the movie is all the better for it. We're not bombarded by crappy looking CGI monsters that take us out of the movie. Instead, the realism adds to the grit and terror of the scenes. And they used dancers and gymnasts and whatnot to add to the flexibility and bizarre movements the creatures needed to perform.
And as I said a second ago, there are some truly great scenes in this film. My personal two favorite are the ones I already mentioned. It's short, but I love the Colin moment a little ways into the film. Fantastic creature design there. And the Nurses moment is probably my favorite scene in the whole movie. She realizes the light makes them move... and then had to slowly travel in between them without touching them and then... yeah. Let's just say this scene has inspired more than one moment in my fiction writing.
The acting is... alright. Jodelle Ferland is incredibly creepy as Alessa, but... kind of unbelievable as Sharon. You can tell she was casted more for her portrayal of Dark Alessa than anything. Radha Mitchell does the best she can with basically shouting "Sharon!" through the whole movie. I was shocked when I realized, as I was watching, that Cybil was played by the same chick who plays Andrea in Walking Dead. It took me a like... a triple-take in this viewing to pick up on it since she looks so drastically different and even acts different. But, of course, what we really need to talk about here is Sean Bean. His role was added and/or extended for the film to add a more male demographic from the original script. Is he completely necessary? No, not really. There are a couple moments with Kim Coates that add a few layers to the story, but that's it. In fact, Rose now having to leave him behind for no reason adds a few strikes against her in my book. And then we get... the ending.
The absolute worst part of this movie is its last 5 minutes or so. And I'm talking even after the climax of the movie. It's really hard to screw up a movie in the denouement. I mean, you can have an open ending, and that can sometimes make or break it for people. But there is a difference between an open ending and... this. And it's because of this moment that I've been greatly anticipating the sequel for about 6 years now. But what they did here was unacceptably bad. Basically (spoiler alert), Alessa merges with Sharon to become one being again, then she leaves Silent Hill with Rose... only they don't leave the fog world and instead stay in this parallel dimension where Sean Bean can't see them. The end (end spoilers). It's unnecessary and makes no sense.
Otherwise, there are a few pacing problems here and there; the movie is a tad longer than it needs to be. And not necessarily just from the Sean Bean stuff. The film as it is could have been trimmed down a bit, and I think I would have actually started the film about 10 minutes in, right where the game starts, about a couple minutes before the wreck. It just adds to the mystery and disorientation of everything... and takes away the terrible acting and really rough scenes that happen in that first 10 minutes.
But on the whole, it's about as close to a perfect video game movie as we've gotten thus far. It looks great, the story is good, the characters are solid, and the atmosphere is excellent. I'd say even if you're not a fan of the game, but you like a good psychological scare or a freaky horror movie, check it out. And if the sequel is any good and redeems this ending, I might even like it a little more. Stay tuned for that later this year. But until then, this is still a pretty dang good video game adaptation.
A Keanu 'Whoa'