It's a movie based on a video game, or more precisely a series of them. No, don't run away. It's downright arty and a million miles away from the usual idiot game adaptations.
I haven't played the original Silent Hill games, but it sounds as if they're far scarier than the movie. Ironically the film's probably weakest when it's sticking to the game-inspired format of a single protagonist negotiating physical challenges. It's the difference between playing a game and watching someone else playing a game. The latter can be fun, but on this occasion the film's heroine has been given a clear goal that doesn't have much to do with her oogie-boogie scenes. She wants to save her daughter. Awww, that's nice. Unfortunately this means that the film's cool monsters are basically padding, since we're waiting for her to meet up with her daughter, or find a clue, or... well, anything, really.
This isn't a short film, running just over two hours, and at times it can feel a bit aimless. My attention occasionally wandered a bit. The director's French, by the way.
In the end I respected it, though. I can't imagine ever loving it, but it's got a good reason for Silent Hill's existence and some meaty themes. It's about mothers and daughters. Our protagonist, Radha Mitchell, is searching for her lost daughter, Jodelle Ferland, and there are strong parallels between their situation and that of the town. Bad things were done a long time ago and the townsfolk are living with them now, or at least the survivors are. I believe the outline of the plot is taken from the first few Silent Hill games, but the film takes a very different turn in the last half-hour until by the time we reach the splatter-filled climax it's borrowing from Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. There's even a gross variant on the tentacle porn.
All this is already solid, intelligent work. However what makes it particularly interesting is its gender division. The original screenplay as submitted to the studio was full of female characters, so they were told to add men. The Sean Bean character was thus added to the film and the studio was happy. On one level, this is retarded. Sean Bean's character is useless. He's playing the husband. Mitchell's the one who's fighting her way through Silent Hill, while Bean's stuck on the outside without a clue about what's really happening. Theoretically his entire plot thread adds nothing to the movie. However what's interesting is how this ties in with the themes. We're repeatedly told that "a mother is God in the eyes of a child", but what does this say about the father? There's not one father figure worth a damn throughout the film. They're either a waste of space or missing. The main plot is entirely female, be they protagonists, victims and enemies. Sean Bean on the other hand talks to men and never finds or even sees anything, except through second-hand reports.
This also ties into the film's punchline. I really liked how it all ends, by the way. After giving us far more thematic meat to think about than I'd expected, we have a final scene that I think is even more interesting if considered in the light of what I've been suggesting above. However I should emphasise that that's only one interpretation and I'm sure it would be possible to look for other readings too.
It looks great, of course. I understand that it's sticking slavishly to the original game's designs, to the extent that even people who hate the film admit that it looks pretty much perfect. There's some awesome atmosphere here and creature designs that remind me nothing so much of a Clive Barker movie like Hellraiser. You've got big iconic monsters like Pyramid Head, but also sinister weird things that you can't even be sure are trying to kill you but still have a creepy freakshow aura that makes you feel as if you're stuck inside a Victorian anatomist's formaldehyde bottle. I wouldn't dream of arguing with the movie's atmosphere, which comes as close as anything I've seen to being able to give even adults nightmares, although some might find it too ethereal. Even the music is all taken directly from the games, with the exception of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash which plays on a jukebox at one point.
So we have a slow, rather arty horror film. Some people seem to have really dug it, but others hated the living daylights out of it. "This would have to be the worst movie I have seen in a long time." That's a quote, by the way. You can imagine. This is not a moron-friendly movie. I suspect it's also much less scary than the original game, not to mention lacking a few twiddly bits like puzzles that wouldn't transfer well to a screenplay.
It also doesn't have nudity, unless you count a moment of plastic-looking CGI. I was hoping Laurie Holden might get them out, but this isn't that kind of film.
The characters aren't exactly laugh-a-minute, but there's nothing wrong with them. In this kind of film, it's missing the point to criticise Mitchell's blindness to the flimsiness of her clues. "She is in this hotel," she announces, on the dubious grounds that she's found a scrap of paper in someone's mouth. Uh, right. At least show a little doubt, woman. However she's saying this in the same breath as "it's going to be okay", which is delivered with just as much conviction and is even less convincing to the audience. Why's it going to be okay, again? Because Mummy said so. Ah, gotcha.
This isn't one of the greats of horror cinema, but it's a quality effort that in no way deserves to be ranked with all other video game adaptations. It wouldn't be a surprise to be told of its origins, but that's often in a good way. The film has an unusually strong sense of geography, for instance. Our heroine has to swing on a rope to get across a collapsed floor, memorise a map, etc. If nothing else, seeing this film in a cinema in Japan made my wife faint.