Silent Hill (2006)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #205

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: April 21, 2006
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: Canada, France
Budget: $50,000,000
Box Office: $99,982,632
Running time: 127 minutes
Director: Christophe Gans
Producers: Samuel Hadida, Don Carmody
Screenplay: Roger Avary, Christophe Gans, Nicolas Boukhrief (uncredited)
Based on: Silent Hill by Konami
Special Effects: David Gauthier
Visual Effects: Jesse Bradstreet, Stephane Ceretti, Bret Culp, Evan Jacobs, Lon Molnar
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
Score: Jeff Danna, Akira Yamaoka (Original theme music)
Editing: Sébastien Prangère
Studio: Davis Films
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Stars: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland, Deborah Kara Unger , Kim Coates, Tanya Allen, Alice Krige, Christopher Britton, Nicky Guadagni, Roberto Campanella, Emily Lineham, Lorry Ayers, Eve Crawford

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Jeff Danna Promise

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Long before Keeper invested every waking moment to scribing of his love for film, videogames offered an escapism which I craved like crack crystals. For ten years plus change I ran a small independent game retailer, the kind of joint we’re all familiar with from Kevin Smith’s Clerks and other suchlike works. I recall with clarity the first trade show I attended and one thing sticks in my mind still very much to this day. Konami had a new project in development and its name was Silent Hill. There was a modest stand dedicated to their new foray into survival horror but, unlike the more action-orientated Resident Evil before it, it traveled to far murkier locales and relied on a build-up of excruciating tension to evoke a response from its addressee.

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Instead of lurching zombies and crack shot mercs this focused more on not simply revealing the threat but instead holding it back in the shadows while the air drained out of your lungs. It was dripping with foreboding and this was only heightened by the fact that the main protagonist under your control could barely hold a gun, let alone fire one. In addition, ammo was more scarce than Salman Rushdie at Ramadan and you had to rely on your wits over any sharpshooting skills. In the years to come we would see various other franchises which attempted the same technique and Fatal Frame and Forbidden Siren, in particular, continued to evolve this approach to immersing the participant in something truly ominous. But it was Silent Hill that pioneered it.

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Five years Christopher Gans sniffed around for the film rights to Konami’s hot property while it became a bankable franchise and continued to build on its already sterling reputation. Konami Japan and Team Silent, the development team responsible for the series, were so bowled over by his vision of grandeur that they became directly involved with the production of the film right through the process and Gans, who was already highly touted for great things after Brotherhood of the Wolf, was offered a hefty kitty to make the transition a successful one.

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Traditionally game-to-film adaptations don’t travel well and largely squander their opportunities for expanding on the universes they depict. Gamers can be rather pompous when it comes to their beloved sagas making that switch but, moreover, it is hard for credibility to be gained when the film industry has its daggers out way in advance of these projects making it to celluloid. Doom, Hitman, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider; all of these have been subject to somewhat harsh treatment across the board although the latter two, in particular, spawned sequels which made respectable returns.

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The result is a film which captures the murky essence of Silent Hill remarkably well. Make no mistake, Gans’ movie looks terrific. Surrealistically shot, it offers the wide open clouded vistas, capturing them exquisitely via Dan Laustsen’s grand cinematography and grainy filters as well as audible radio static denouncing trouble’s close proximity. It is when you are beginning to feel secure in these streets that Gans pulls the rug from your feet and, once again, it echoes its inspiration majestically as the dreaded air raid siren lets out its haunting holler and the whole set comes crumbling down.

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It is here where his understanding of the source material is tested and he comes up trumps for the most part. Everything becomes ashen and even more bleak and foreboding. Paint peels away from the walls in orange-lit cinder trails and we are transferred to much tighter quarters. Vertically challenged succubi with screaming contorted faces begin lurching around in the crawlspaces and the almighty Pyramid Head is finally brought into play. Anyone familiar with Keiichiro Toyama’s original concept will know this fellow only too well and he drags his super-sized doom blade around with exactly the same shadowy purpose that he became known and feared for. These sequences work superbly and it is here that Silent Hill finds the adjacent path to its videogame counterpart.

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The game was always at its most masterful when provoking such peril and the plot was almost a distraction to this. This proves the case here also as Gans introduces us to the same troupe of mysterious townsfolk and attempts to bamboozle us with multiple red herrings and ambiguous veiling. Thankfully his casting is inspired. Playing lead Rose De Silva, Radha Mitchell (The Crazies, Pitch Black) is a safe pair of hands whilst Deborah Kara Unger (Crash, The Game) likewise is ever dependable. However it is Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead, The Mist) as dogged police officer Cybil Bennett who intrigues the most providing a staunch ally for Rose as she attempts to unravel the town’s ominous secret and find her missing child.

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Alas Sean Bean (The Hitcher, The Dark) is less well utilized as Christopher, her hapless husband was originally intended to bookmark the film but the studio wished his part to be fleshed out. This sub-plot leans towards the superfluous although the concept of parallel planes of existence itself is a fascinating one. Unfortunately it is merely brushed upon and Bean comes across as a little lost, which I guess was the intention, but maybe not so literally all-at-sea. He is a most capable actor but something tells me that his brief was as vague as the town’s inhabitants and his fruitless endeavor hurts the overall flow somewhat.

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The effects are worthy of great applause and, in particular, the bipedal hell-dwellers who are a mass of loathsome latex and slink about to great effect. The CGI, whilst clearly necessitated, is implemented with largely successful results although on rare occasion it has a tendency to draw you out of the immersion a tad. The arcane back-story and metaphysical enlightenment serves only to discombobulate and, if anything, this is over elaborated upon. It is when Silent Hill upholds its ambiguity that its effect is most potent and the urge to jump into this particular rabbit hole the most irresistible.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Fans of the game will find much to delight their senses. There is ample macabre imagery to provoke phantasms and a fair splash of sickening Grue offered about. Watching Pyramid Head grasp the epidermis of one hapless victim and yank it away from its marrow is a glorious gruesome delight. The word grotesque perfectly encapsulates the ocular feast Gans supplies our widening orbs.

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