April 27, 2006

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Silent Hill (R)
An artfully shot ghost story unravels into a baffling pile of ash and confusion in Silent Hill.

Silent Hill, which is based on a video game but not, sadly, a movie from the mind of Z-grade movie genius Uwe Boll, looks awesome. Most of the film is spent in the deserted town of Silent Hill where a dove-gray ash gently rains down on the storefronts and abandoned cars. When an ominous air raid siren sounds, the skies darken and from god knows where, all manner of creepy armless beings and Morlocks-type creatures made of glowing charcoal slink about ready to seriously freak out any humans who wander through town. Because of a sort of alternate-universe existence in this town (which, officially, was deserted because of coal fires that continue to burn underground), the movie plays with light and shadow, with the town sometimes shown in the ash snowfall and sometimes in clear daylight.

Ah, if only some daylight had reached the twisted depths of this script.

Rose (Radha Mitchell) is desperate to keep her sleepwalking 11-year-old Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) from hurling herself off cliffs while yelling about Silent Hill. Since drugs have failed to calm her child, Rose decides her only recourse is taking her spooky, pale-faced child to the not-on-any-map town near where the adopted Sharon was found as an infant. As soon as they enter town — pursued by a nosy cop (Laurie Holden) — Sharon runs off and Rose is left to wander around town yelling her name and encountering all manner of gruesome, vaguely humanoid characters. Eventually, Rose runs into some dust-covered townsfolk (supposedly from sometime in the mid-20th century but whose dress suggests sometime much earlier) who deal with their problems primarily by finding a “witch” and burning her at a stake (we get one fabulously disturbing example of what this looks like).

So now, in addition to the lava people, Rose is chased by the community theater cast of The Crucible.

Usually in a horror movie, the inevitable appearance of the backstory (why the evil whatever is menacing the town) kills some of the creepiness but does give us some sense of what all the CGI supernatural stuff is supposed to mean. In Silent Hill, the backstory (over-explained here in an almost laughable amount of detail) is where the waters start to get muddied. Everything after the backstory becomes exponentially screwier. It’s as if the first 90 minutes of the film were written by one person and the last 30 minutes by someone else — neither of whom ever talked to each other or got to read the other’s work. Only the existence of Rose and her creepy-eyed child stays the same. The film’s final scene ends with a visual kicker that leaves you thinking not “wow, how unexpected and clever” but simply “huh?”

Even the nifty visuals couldn’t distract me forever from the movie’s nonsensicalness. In fact the weirdness of the last 30 minutes got me thinking about all the other parts of the film that are subpar — Radha Mitchell’s constant hysteria, that states-the-obvious dialogue, the pointless side plot involving Rose’s husband Christopher (Sean Bean) and his half-assed search for his family. My reevaluation of lameness went all the way back to the movie poster with its mouthless Sharon — why is she missing a mouth? Ah, I know! So she can’t warn us away from this horror quagmire. D


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