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WTF? On Film 1: Silent Hill


When I first watched Silent Hill, I had no idea it was previously a video game. Even if I had, I doubt it would have deterred me; though I have never played on form of games system in my entire life (that’s right!) and have zero interest in computer games generally, I am actually of the opinion video games *can* create interesting, fun, movies – just as I believe comic books (sorry! GRAPHIC NOVELS) can too.

And I wasn’t disappointed by Silent Hill (for the first three quarters anyway, but I’ll come back to that in a minute). On a movie-making level, it looks fantastic: top class. But even script-wise, it opens with an immediate hook: two parents, shouting for their lost kid. What more universal a fear than that to start a horror movie? If your child has ever wandered off (and most kids manage it at least once in eighteen years), then you know the fear that clutches at your heart like a vice.

So it starts well and bar a silly moment where the Mum, Rose, leaves the kid, Sharon, in the car when paying at a petrol station in the middle of the night (yeah right!!!), it continues well. We’re introduced to the cop woman, Cybil, at the petrol station who will later *almost* fuck everything up for Rose, but save her as well — and we’re filled with this sense of foreboding, this inevitable sense that whatever lies in the forgotten town of Silent Hill, it is NOT GOOD.

Some critics didn’t understand the story of Silent Hill, but for me it was very simple: it was a mother trying to find her child. From the first minute to (almost) the last, that theme was very much in evidence. It was something I felt I could relate to, not only because I am a mother but also because those images of death and damnation within Silent Hill itself really struck a chord. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his “A Woman Of No Importance”:

“Death, being childless, wants our children: we must fight Him for them.”

To me, Silent Hill was about the struggle women make from conception, birth and right through their children’s lives in actually keeping them alive even when their misadventures threaten their mortality. And kids do try and kill themselves without realising – every five minutes, especially boys. It’s not that fathers don’t recognise this, but they cannot partake in pregnancy and birth like women can: also, traditionally Men might be the protectors, but perhaps they are spread thin more – for traditionally it is their role not only to protect children, but women too, hence the old adage in disaster or survival situations when evacuating, “Women and children first!” If Men are supposed to be the Protectors then, it seems to me as if Women are the “Preventers”: as a result, whether peace time or war, Women never rest a moment in fighting Death for those children (well, that’s the hope anyway – sadly there are too many terrible parents out there who never give anything a second’s thought and depressingly as many who are in themselves the threat to the Child, the very embodiment of Death in fact).

So I was not worried about the lack of explanation regarding the burning babies, the people in gas marks, the guy in the toilets wrapped up with barbed wire. By the time the Demon Guy with the triangular head turned up with his flesh eating companions, I was well into the story I had invented in my head. Here was Death himself, here to take Rose’s daughter from her clutches – and who could help her? Certainly not a man, not even her Husband: he was stuck in the “real” version of Silent Hill because he couldn’t understand the truth and importance of parenthood whilst Rose struck it out in that alternate reality where her daughter had disappeared. Only Cybil, the aforementioned female cop, could help her – after all, she too had lost a child in her way: the kidnapped boy she found, dead down the mineshaft. Yes, I decided: this was a film ENTIRELY about motherhood, about how only a mother’s steadfast love can stand in the way of true evil. I even thought I knew what the ending would be: Rose would find her daughter in the worst place within the town, where only a true leap of faith/vanquishing of the beast would enable her to reach her – she would probably have to defeat Death in his funky triangular helmet in some way, maybe wrench her from his very arms and defy him – or that old favourite (an oldy but still a goody), sacrifice herself for the child?

So imagine my surprise when I discover the story is in fact more about witch burning and less about a mother’s struggles with Death himself. WTF?

Once Rose and Cybil are separated at the hospital, Cybil is taken off by the villagers and burnt at the stake, while Rose discovers the “truth” of what happened in the town. This exposition is seemingly not open to interpretation like the previous three quarters of the film: instead, those necessarily details are told in extended flashback and voiceover, given directly to the audience. It would appear most of the exposition was shoved to the back of the screenplay – perhaps it was a studio, rather than screenwriter decision? The execs decided not enough had been “nailed down”, maybe? Anyway: the child, called “Sharon” by Rose is in fact the good version of another child, “Alessa” who previously lived in Silent hill 30 years’ previously and was burnt at the stake by the townspeople – by the same fire which lit the disastrous coal fire that destroyed the town.

I was unconvinced by any of this; it came too late for me and seemed at odds with what had gone before. To be fair, there were clues: Rose meets Dahlia, Alessa’s mother amongst the ashes of Silent Hill fairly early on and Dahlia insists Alessa and Sharon are one and the same, though it does little in my opinion to set up the resolution in which Dahlia’s sister insists Alessa/Sharon must be killed. It also feels kind of inevitable the child Rose has is responsible for the death of the town, but it opens up a whole can of worms, like:

Who was Alessa’s father, the devil? If so, why does he choose Dahlia when she seems fundamentally good?

Why did the townspeople kill Alessa when she was *about* eight – why not when she was a baby and presumably couldn’t harm them? And why burn her, why exactly was she considered a witch?

Why does Dahlia let her psycho sister take Alessa?

How does Alessa become Sharon – and how does Rose end up with her if it was 30 years ago Alessa died?

Why take Rose back to Silent Hill if she is the mother Alessa deserved?

Perhaps all of these things are explained in the video game; I don’t doubt it in fact. But I saw none of these answers in the film version of SILENT HILL – and I think adaptation should cater for those unfamiliar with the source material. Also, because I got so *in* to my own reading of what the film’s story was, I suppose a part of me grieved for that unresolved version I had created within my own head: once Cybill was burned at the stake, I could continue with it no longer and had to abandon it as a mistake, rather than a story in its own right. Ironically I personally would have preferred NO explanation than the one Alessa/Sharon gives once Rose makes it past those impressive zombie-style nurses at the hospital. But then I guess we all see stories very differently, as I’m fond of saying on this blog and to my Bang2writers.

What were your experiences of Silent Hill as a movie – and as a game, if you’ve played it? Over to you…


Silent Hill Official Site

Silent Hill on IMDB

Silent Hill on Wikipedia

Silent Hill Video Games by Konamii – reviews and purchase

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8 thoughts on “WTF? On Film 1: Silent Hill”

  1. Curious one this. In relation to the game, the first of the series actually had a male protagonist going to Silent Hill trying to find his adopted daughter. The story is otherwise simliar (even featuring the policewoman Cybil) but the story is much more clear about the relationship between Dahlia, Alessa and Cheryl (Sharon in the film) and is less about witch burning and more about Dahlia’s attempt to reincarnate a god by sacrificing her daughter Alessa.

    Because of it’s a video game, there are potentially four endings to choose from depending on your decisions while playing the game.

    However the film does also take from other Silent Hill games as well, both visually (Pyramid Head only appears in Silent Hill 2, I believe) and thematically (Maternity was a major theme in Silent Hill 4).

    Unfortunately, one of the problems that Roger Avary and Christophe Gans faced with the production was studio interference. Sean Bean’s character’s role was significantly increased after insistence for the powers as they weren’t happy at having such a female dominated film with no male leads. I don’t think his subplot did anything to improve the film.

    As an aside, it’s a shame that you have zero interest in games generally as there are a lot of absolutely captivating games out there which feature stunning stories and great writing. I believe that part of the reason that there haven’t been any great films made out of games yet is that a lot of the really good games that could be successful films are not necessarily the best sellers so it’s games like Doom, Resident Evil and anything that Uwe Boll can get the license too that get made.

  2. I guessed as much on the studio interference – Sean Bean’s subplot did seem quite pointless, plus his American accent was not great I thought. Plus as soon as Sharon/Alessa says “You deserve to know the truth Rose” I thought “uh-oh: mega exposition alert shoved on the back by execs thinking the audience are thick!”

    I don’t doubt there’s great writing in games Drac, not least because I’ve been involved in that sort of thing in the past writing-wise myself ; ) It’s just the actual act of playing them that does not interest me. My son is a committed gamer now and some of the stuff he plays on seems cool or interesting story-wise, but the idea of picking up a console holds no appeal for me.

  3. excellent analysis. I too had never played the games and when I watched it in the theatre I found it to be one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. Some amazing imagery in this flick.

    I wouldn’t say I “liked” it as much as you but I certainly think that people were way too harsh in their criticism.

  4. Yes, “unsettling” is definitely the word DL – it was a real ‘nightmarescape’ of imagery, reckon the DP, makeup/costume people and the set dressers, etc deserved some sort of recognition for that.

  5. Nice one, Lucy! I really like this film having watched son-in-law play the game. Great roles for women though I agree Sean Bean’s role was pointless and it did get convoluted.

  6. I too liked the film for its overall look and design but mostly I liked it for its authentic simplicity.

    I wondered why the buzz was so bad on it and thought maybe those ‘buzzers’ should just lighten up.

    Then it went complicated and completely bonkers and I understood perfectly well why the buzz was so bad. I ended up hating the movie so much.

  7. I agree Elinor — Rose and Cybil were great characters, but ultimately I felt let down by that ending ‘cos it seemed as if they were greater than I thought they were… If that makes any sense.

  8. Oooh Robino, commenting when I was, great minds! ; )

    Yes I agree – though I wouldn’t say I hate the film, just that ending, if I’m honest it gave me THE RAGE.

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