Translating a video game into a successful film is not an easy task. Whether this is due to the length of most games clocking in at well over 10 hours or simply the differences in how the mediums present the narratives, Hollywood has had a rough time with it. For the most part, these movies have been critical and financial failures and even the best of the bunch are not without their issues. 2006’s Silent Hill has certainly been met with mixed reviews and its’ sequel wasn’t even that lucky. Still, the first one has its but for me, they both missed the mark.
Silent Hill is the story of a mother (in the movie) looking for her missing child in an abandoned ghost town. There are many levels to this place and the characters will shift from the “fog world” where everything is grey and foggy to the otherworld, where it starts to look a bit more like a Cannibal Corpse album cover. Barbed wire, rust, dead bodies, and darkness creep in as a sirens sound and things take a turn for the worst. This level is more dangerous, but both of these locations have monsters lurking around. Both the movie and the first game explain that these creatures and the general haunted happenings are the psychic manifestations of a young girl named Alessa Gillespie, who their missing daughter is a pseudo-reincarnation of. Add in a couple of cults and that’s basically the plot. It plays out differently in the game than in the movie and the cult motivations differ, but that’s pretty much it.
The reason I say this is because while the majority of the plot is taken from the first game, the majority of the monsters are taken from the second. This muddies the waters and proves that the filmmakers missed the point entirely. Creatures like Pyramid Head, the Lying Figure, and the Nurses (at least this version of them) all only exist because they represent something to James Sunderland, protagonist of Silent Hill 2. The nurses are scantily clad and faceless because they represent the sexual frustration that James felt when visiting his sick wife in the hospital. The Lying Figure (that thing with no arms that spits acid) is meant to look like a hospital patient squirming in agony and represents James’ internal suffering. Pyramid Head is a manifestation of guilt and a desire to be punished. The problem with all of this is that James does not exist in the Silent Hill movies, so why are his personal demons lurking around the town attacking somebody else? They’re there solely because they look cool, but this is unacceptable.
The sad thing is that the idea of Silent Hill taking the issues of whomever wanders into town and manifesting them into real tormentors could have made for a great film. Like I’ve already mentioned, translating a 10 to 20 hour gameplay experience into a 90 minute film is a daunting task, but this premise is perfect for coming up with a brand new story with new monsters. This is the direction it should have gone in. Rather than creating some strange amalgamation of bits and pieces from different games without any consideration for why these things exist, I’d have taken the town itself and nothing else. The foggy streets of Silent Hill and the hellish otherworld are iconic enough that you don’t need Pyramid Head or the nurses to show up over and over again to please fans of the source material.
Once again, I don’t think Silent Hill is a bad film, but it misses the point. It kind of feels like they took The Exorcist and remade it in the style of Friday the 13th. I don’t care how good of a slasher movie it is, these styles are not the same and the quality is not on the same level. Silent Hill the game is subtle and atmospheric. It’s deep and meaningful. It’s a narrative experience that delves into the psyche. Silent Hill the movie is a shallow and straight forward ghost town story with a crazy cult and some cool looking monsters. It’s style over substance, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its’ source material and it doesn’t live up to the film that it could have been. Honestly, your best bet if you want to see a great Silent Hill style film is to watch Jacob’s Ladder. That’s was one of the biggest influences on the first game and it fits the style they went with much more than the movies actually did.