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Silent Hill’ offers eerie, atmospheric experience

Mark Bemenderfer | Monday, May 1, 2006

Movies derived from video games have a long and sordid history. “Double Dragon,” “Super Mario Bros.” and the more recent “Doom” are examples of simple video game plots that were completely butchered by Hollywood. The overall track record of such experiments indicates failure.

Enter Christophe Gans’ “Silent Hill.” While the previously mentioned games featured plots that could be condensed to a single, simplistic paragraph, the “Silent Hill” universe features a vast library of mythology, characters and events that would be more suited to a senior thesis. Freudian themes, inner demons and a reliance on heavily symbolic imagery proliferate in the quiet town of Silent Hill.

This could be why “Silent Hill” succeeds where the other video-game movies have failed. It already had a wealth of creative material to draw from and simply needed to be transported to the big-screen without taking an excess of creative liberty.

The story is an amalgamation of the entire “Silent Hill” video game franchise, with a very heavy emphasis on plot from the first effort in the series. It centers on Rose (Radha Mitchell), a mother in search of her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). The young Sharon walks in her sleep and experiences nightmares of a place called Silent Hill. Rose decides that instead of subjecting her daughter to clinical study, she will take her to the town in her nightmares.

Her journey to the town of Silent Hill is hampered by husband Chris (Sean Bean) and a motorcycle cop named Cybil (Laurie Holden). Rose eventually makes it to the town with Sharon, but their victory is short-lived. Rose crashes her car while trying to avoid a spectral girl. She awakens to find that she has lost Sharon and that she is alone in the eerie, perpetually snowing town of Silent Hill.

It doesn’t take long for Rose to realize that the snow is really ash and that the town harbors a dark secret. While in pursuit of her daughter, she is led underground for an unknown reason. While descending the stairs, a mysterious siren goes off, and all light is extinguished in the town.

For fans of the “Silent Hill” franchise, what happens next is fairly obvious. The games have always exhibited a surreal atmosphere, with the town alternating between a light and dark universe. The light universe has a perpetual fog, suitable for hiding monsters. The dark Silent Hill is punctuated by barbed wire, chain link fences and rusted iron gratings, usually covered with gore.

That simple explanation describes the setting, but doesn’t nearly do justice to the actual experience of seeing the dark Silent Hill. The main draw for the movie is undeniably the mise-en-scene – the scenery and settings of Silent Hill – plus its macabre occupants. Director Gans went to incredible lengths to make sure that everything looked perfect, going so far as to renting an entire town to redecorate for the film. It captures the look and feel of the games perfectly, and will be a treat to see for first-timers or veteran Silent Hill explorers.

The only complaint is that the audience doesn’t see enough of it. A little more action would have served perfectly to spice up the movie’s more than two-hour running time.