Silent Hill isn’t the sort of movie I’d normally reserve for a review, but this isn’t a normal review. Let me start by saying that Silent Hill is above average and slightly better than I’d expected.I saw Silent Hill in the same week as Romanzo Criminale, which is an Italian film about a gang of Italian criminals who were in and out of the news between 1977 and 1972.
In the initial scene Romanzo couldn’t impress me, a feeling I couldn’t shake off during the two and a half hours that followed. It’s like watching a short version of La Piovra, with all the good bits cut out. The main reason was that the principal characters weren’t interesting enough for me to look at for over two hours. If they’d wanted a good movie, they should’ve focused on the two girlfriends in the movie: the sweet girl who doesn’t know her beau is involved in crime and the prostitute who has ties with both the criminals and the policeman chasing them.
However, the way this was filmed you might as well print out pictures of the lead actors, stick them to your wall and watch that for 2.5 hours.
Talk about flat characters!
The good news about Romanzo Criminale is doesn’t want to look like Ta****ino, but treats them as characters you’d see in a drama. Which is nice: some depth is always good, but sadly the characters are pretty flat and there’s no depth to explore.
Good news that did work is the director knows how to handle a camera. None of those shaky camera movements that try to make the movie seem more lively. What’s wrong with showing a camera isn’t too heavy for you to handle? Even in The Secret Life of Words there’s a moment where the camera goes for a shaky close-up. But given that Sarah Polley is a nurse sitting on the bed of Tim Robbins, who’s immobilised, why is there a need for a camera to shake around?This is also true for Silent Hill: Gans knows how to direct the camera and proves that chasing scenes are not more boring if the camera isn’t placed on a bouncing ball, but held pretty steady.
Yes, Silent Hill looks pretty good. Which is also an achievement if you know that almost every action scene in the movie was designed by another company. You’re just going from scene to scene, but the movie went from sfx company to sfx company. That you don’t really notice this when watching the movie can be called an achievement.
A friend of mine said this was the sort of movie that Fulci would make if he were still alive. Would he? Yes, there’s the scent of burnt corpses you love to smell in the morning and there’s a body tied to a toilet with barbed wire. And the close-up scene where you witness how a body held above a fire goes from pink to slightly overdone black is something Fulci would love to do too.
But my main problem with Silent Hill is that the build-up is great and really scary, but once Rose follows a little girl inside a dark basement and the siren is making an ominous sound, I suddenly sat in the chair and discovered I wasn’t scared. Up to that point, the movie looks incredibly creepy and scary but once Rose finds herself surrounded by the weird creatures from the trailer I had lost the ability to get frightenend.
Which is also a bit like Fulci: I fail to get scared by his last movies, but with Zombi 2 he does know how to push the right buttons. Need I say more than ‘the scene with the eye’?
Which brings us to the second movie I’d like to compare Silent Hill to: The Descent. There were four loud girls in front of me, but also four lads who told them to shut up (but proved equally noisy once the movie had started). Incidently, during the credits a boy told the girls to shut up, but they rebuked “It’s not even started yet!” Which is an interesting discussion: does a movie start when the lights go out or when we find ourselves watching scene 1?
My main criticism with The Descent is that it’s too long. Sure, it’s 90 minutes long, but hey, I often watch films from the 40s where movies of 70 minutes were no exception. The Descent takes up too much time with establishment shots, but when the girls enter the caves the exciting part of the movie starts.
Yes, both The Descent and Silent Hill literally go below the ground at one point, but where one movie stopped being scary there the other one started its relentless sequences of terror that would’ve made Fulci proud. You’ll find bones sticking out, gore, a girl falling in a pool of blood and flesh. Scary and it works.
The loud eight in front of me were either completely silenced or shouting out in terror (which for the girls translated in shrieking and for the boys in howling).
I also have a problem with the final ten minutes of The Descent, which I found a bit predictable, but bear in mind I’m still selling videos on eBay and half of them are horror, so maybe not everyone will mind as much.
And let’s face it, shortcomings aside, The Descent is a movie you should try and see. It’s far from perfect, but the other sequences (which still means 70% of the movie) is genuinely scary and great.
Silent Hill does have frightening sequences and occasionally succeeds in making you think there can really be such a thing as a guy with a really big knife and a pyramid on his head. (Erm, okay, to regular visitors of DV that won’t come as a surprise.) And where it is clearly a computer game transposed to the silver screen, it’ succeeds better in coming alive as a movie than its predecessors.
But still, there are scenes like the one in the hotel: Rose and Cybil are in the hotel looking for Rose’s daughter, when Cybil opens a closet where the mail is kept and finds there’s a note for room 111. Which, gamers will know, it’s time to go to find room 111. But room 111 doesn’t exist! Oh well, let’s tear this painting to pieces and maybe there’s a hidden room (and of course there is).
This scene and the two things that happen next are clear indications that Silent Hill has its origins in a game. It’s done well enough for you to accept it as part of a plot (the girl who looks like Rose’s daughter clearly wants Rose to find out what’s happened to her), but it’s a point where I felt like looking for a joystick rather than popcorn.
So is Silent Hill a good movie? No, but it’s better than we were expecting. Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman, Le Pacte des Loups) is an able director, who knows how to handle a camera. His movie looks good, but it’s a bit too transparant that it has its origins as a game. If you don’t like the work of Lucio Fulci, stay away: it’s pretty gory from time to time and will go beyond imagination to explain what’s happening (remember how in The New York Ripper a blood sample told the police the killer was approx. 35 old and that the killer had never left New York). If you’re unable to put your Suspension of Disbelief button to the maximum degree, you’ll find a large part of the film ludicrous. (Which is another plus for The Descent: that movie is courteous enough to switch your buttons itself… I had no trouble believing there was a race of creatures living in underground caves.)
Silent Hill: 6/10 (better than average)
The Descent: 7/10 (but a recommendation)
Romanzo Criminale: 4/10 (crap that was made well)
(All images were found on the cinebel.be site. Originally published on DV in May 2006. Slightly edited now and (re-)published here.)