Dir: Christophe Gans. Can-Fr. 2006. 127 mins.
Apparently designed to appeal both to fanboys and to a slightly older, mixed-gender crowd, videogame adaptation Silent Hill comes offas an atmospheric but disappointingly dull horror thriller. Interest fromhorror and game aficionados should be strong enough for the Sony-distributed chiller, produced by Samuel Hadidaand directed by French genre expert Christophe Gans, to achieve significant theatrical results and strongvideo returns. But the dearth of visceral thrills makes pulling a really broadmainstream audience seem unlikely.
The core audience hasalready given the film - released domestically, with an R rating, under Sony's TriStar label - a decent start in the US: a chart-toppingestimated first-weekend gross of $20.2m. The opening puts Silent Hill on course for an eventual domestic take in the same$40m-$50m range as Sony and Hadida's two recent Resident Evil game adaptations.
The Resident Evil movies both did even better internationally, but withits cast of mostly mid-level US and Canadian names Silent Hill (technically a Canada-France co-production) may have atougher time making a mark outside the States. Sony Pictures ReleasingInternational opened the film in the UK day-and-date with the US and theinternational rollout will continue through the spring and summer.
The series of five Japanesesurvival horror games on which the movie is based has a reputation forcinematic style. The script by Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) draws its set-up from thefirst game and its scary monsters from various instalments; but it makes thestory's protagonist female instead of male.
Avary tries to open out the story by first introducingyoung mother Rose (Mitchell), husband Christopher (Bean) and troubled daughterSharon (up-and-coming child actor Ferland). WhenSharon has recurring dreams about a place called Silent Hill, Rose decides totake her to the West Virginia town of that name, which has been deserted sincea devastating underground fire.
A sub-plot involvingChristopher's attempts to rescue his wife and daughter gives the film someadded human interest, but most of the two-hour-plus running time is devoted toRose's search for Sharon, who disappears into the town's empty, mist-enshroudedstreets. This part of the film feels very much like a video game, with each actcorresponding to another game level as Rose penetrates deeper into the town'ssecrets.
The horror is ramped up bymysterious episodes during which darkness descends on the town and Rose meets avariety of grotesque creatures, from flesh-eating insects to the games'weapon-wielding Pyramid Head.
Gans (best known for 2001 French-language horror outing Brotherhood Of TheWolf) successfully recreates the games' mood and J-horror style but hedoesn't find a way to make the action really compelling. Too often, watchingthe film feels like watching a video game that someone else is playing.
There is a backstory to the plot - something about witch burning and adisfigured child with demonic powers - but it's far too confusing to addanything to the film's dramatic impact. The actors, meanwhile, struggle in vainto bring some very hackneyed dialogue to life.
The effects are as good ascould be expected from a production with a reported $50m budget. Some of the CGmonsters and demons are genuinely scary, others are pretty silly. The film goesinto effects overdrive for a gory climactic sequence that may give genre fans abuzz but will probably have casual viewers sniggering.
Deborah Kara Unger