Breaking the Silence (Silent Hill, Six Years Later)

This Friday will mark the release of Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, the much delayed follow up to Christophe Gans’ video-game adaptation, Silent Hill. As an outspoken fan of the video games (those developed by “Team Silent,” that is), I’m also a harsh critic of the first movie. What will follow is a short recap of the game, the transition to the big screen, and what may come this Friday, be it a cinematic horror masterpiece, or a gossamer Halloween flop.

From an objective standpoint, for me, the Silent Hill games were so startlingly frightening from the onset because of my age and concept of “horror” when I first picked up Silent Hill 2 in September of 2001. In it, you play as James Sunderland, a clerk who returns to the lakeside town after receiving a letter from his dead wife, Mary, who tells him that she’s waiting for him. The fact that “a dead person can’t write a letter” is just the first of many psychological violations that the game becomes increasingly adept at executing. At first peaceful and brooding, the game quickly descends into an absolutely terrifying journey into the cryptic past of both James and the town.

My experience was one in which the context was what caused Silent Hill 2 to leave such a major impression on me. James’ story, in which he comes across a handful of wandering and sometimes deranged souls, is perhaps the only one of its kind in which an intrinsic look into the human psyche has been so flawlessly executed. You see James struggle with grief, doubt, sexual frustration, and the need for redemption, as his peccadillo gradually come to light before the truth is revealed with shocking aplomb. You see him find false hope in Maria, a sexy surrogate whom James gradually begins to distrust more and more as he realizes that she is a mere manifestation of the town’s reflection of his own desires. By the end of the game – and whichever of the six endings you earn -you’ll find yourself emotionally exhausted and satisfied.

The original Silent Hill, while second on my list, established such a strong precedence for the rest of the series that it deserves to bear the title of masterpiece in its own right. You play as Harry Mason, a widower who takes his daughter Cheryl to the quaint resort town on vacation. Awakening from a car crash to find that his daughter has gone missing, Harry stumbles out and heads toward the town as snow falls.

The mythology of the first Silent Hill, in which Harry finds that his adopted daughter is the good half of a psychic child named Alessa Gillespie, whom members of a cult persecuted and impregnated to give birth to their God, was loosely adapted in the 2006 film. Radha Mitchell starred as Rose Da Silva, the mother of a girl named Sharon, who sleepwalks and yearns to return to Silent Hill. Chris Da Silva, played by the powerhouse actor Sean Bean, is put on the backburner as the weak silver screen representation of Harry Mason, and becomes  a detective to find out the mystery behind his adopted child’s birth and the fires of the resort town.

Cinematic, eerie, and long winded, the movie has a strong start but eventually becomes ponderous and overstays its welcome. The themes of religious persecution and revenge are beaten to death, and the dialogue comes off as stilted for most of the movie.While Gans captured the ambiance of the games almost flawlessly, he left out strong character writing and tacked on a slipshod ending that strains to be mysterious. Welcoming to the ears was Akira Yamaoka’s music, which had been well incorporated. Leaving the movie, though, I felt like I had been unfulfilled.

How is it possible, if at all, to capture all the most sinister scares of the game and write them into a well-crafted, emotional, and haunting film? To me, there were four major things that Gans didn’t nail that I’m really hoping Michael Bassett, the director of Silent Hill: Revelation, fixed.

  1. The first, and most glaring issue, was the emphasis on action, rather than psychological isolation. Whenever Rose was in danger, Cybil would come with her Sig Sauer and save her. Silent Hill isn’t about having someone else shoot the monsters dead for you. It’s about you wielding a steel pipe against three or four monsters and barely scraping by, with no other human around to help. 
  2. Second complaint: Less emphasis on the cult, more emphasis on the town’s history and mythos. Silent Hill, while being about persecution and redemption, should not hit you over the head with religious motifs. Witch burning isn’t scary; feeling like the town is getting inside your head is. 
  3. Next: Have compelling, damaged, and lost characters who each face their own demons. This is part of what made Silent Hill 2 so unsettling. Characters like Angela and Eddy made you ruminate over justice and personal vindication by being so unhinged and sinful. Maria was one of the strongest characters precisely because you knew she wasn’t real, but still yearned and suffered like we all do. If Bassett can land this point the battle’s already half won.
  4. And finally: End the emphasis on gore. Silent Hill, while replete with dog heads and disfigured corpses, was never about chopping off limbs or finding guts strewn around the town’s streets. Gans fouled up big time with this one, choosing to illustrate revenge through the simplest of modes: violence. Claudia, Angela, and James, among other characters, were trapped in a cycle of abuse, but theirs was emphasized through psychological torture and dramatic dialogue, not barbed wire ripping through their chests. 

It’s been  2,375 days since Silent Hill first came out, sparking the opportunity for a more widespread dissemination of horror that is emotionally challenging, disturbing, and masterfully artistic. While the first one was a misstep, Michael Bassett is taking the next step in the series, his enthusiasm encouraging to most loyal followers like myself.

We hope for something thought provoking, for something subtle and skin crawling, for a journey that challenges our morals and rewrites our sense of fear.

In my restless dreams, I see that town…

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