McMillan’s Codex 33 By C.T. McMillan
Videogame Movie: Silent Hill
Adaptation is double-edged sword. Seeing your favorite works in another medium can be exciting, but there is always the possibility it will not do the source material justice. Information gets lost in translation, details will not make the transition, and your favorite parts may be butchered. One must also consider how the adaptation stands on its own. The Marvel films may deviate from the comics, but that does not stop them from being great. Video games go through the same process and I want to explore their adaptations, starting with Silent Hill.
Silent Hill is a psychological horror game about Harry Mason looking for his daughter Cheryl after a car accident in the town of Silent Hill, Maine. As he wanders the haunted suburb, he encounters otherworldly monsters as reality shifts to a nightmarish realm. He later discovers Cheryl is a part of a conspiracy involving a psychic girl and a cult that worships a demon.
The movie is decent as horror films go, especially in comparison to today’s fare. The use of music, sets, darkness, and practical effects lends to the film’s focus on atmosphere and the goal of creating a creeping environment.
A lot of the tracks are ambient noise pulled from the games that play at varied intensities. The moments including monsters are mostly silent with only the sounds of the actors and environment. The sets are diverse and real, bearing the touch of an artisan that cared about detail. Areas that capture the nightmare world of Silent Hill were some of the best, an industrial realm of rust and blood with an omnipresent grinding noise. It is here the use of darkness comes through with the environment consumed in blackness and the only light focused on the actors.
The effects are physically created with the monsters played by people in rubber suits. The movie uses creatures from the first Silent Hill and the sequel with the Lying Figure, Nurses, and Pyramid Head. When they appear on film, they leave an impression long after they are gone. The scarcity of the monsters and gore, however, works in the movie’s favor as it does not oversaturate itself by giving you what you want. If the story was all about the monsters, it would have gotten old very fast.
Radha Mitchell in the lead as Rose was fine, save for when she had trouble saying lines that were poorly written to begin with. Alice Krige played the villain Christabella with a lofty cadence in her voice that lent to her cult leader character. Laurie Holden of Walking Dead fame did a decent job as Officer Cybil. Sean Bean plays Christopher, one of few roles in which he does not die. The worst by far was Jodelle Ferland as Sharon. Criticize a child actor for being a child actor is uncouth, but necessary when you cringe so hard you implode.
While Silent Hill is a serviceable horror movie, it does not hold a candle to the game. Since there is a lot wrong, I will avoid anything superficial that the film ignores or takes from the game without context.
Both use visuals and sound to create a sense of isolation, but actually playing it is an entirely different experience. As you walk through the town, there is an omnipresent fog that obscures your sight while monsters scurry out of view. Interacting with it is more potent than being a spectator, something the movie could not achieve.
The game’s storytelling is superior, relying on subtlety, and trusting the player to pay attention. Like other horror games, Silent Hill used memos spread throughout each level to provide information on puzzles and narrative. The movie uses visuals to tell you what is going on before characters audibly tell you the same thing in the most self-evident fashion possible. These scenes are useless.
The story itself is not especially good to begin with. It lacks the nuance and creativity of the game and turns into a generic cult story with supernatural elements. Without the monsters and reality shifts, the experience is quite mediocre.
One of the borrowed elements creates a huge plot hole. To explain this problem, here is a brief synopsis of the game’s backstory.
Years before the main events, the cult tried to use a psychic child named Alessa to bring their god into reality. To stop the ritual, she split her soul and one half became Harry’s daughter Cheryl. After she was drawn back to the town, Cheryl’s reunion with Alessa triggered a thick fog around the town. The shifts to the nightmare realm are the demon trying to merge with reality as it fights through Alessa’s attempt to destroy it.
In the movie it is revealed that a girl named Alessa was burned by a cult of Puritans led by Christabella before she was saved. In the hospital she merges with a demon to punish the town. Years later the good parts of her soul were separated and formed Sharon, who was adopted by Rose and Christopher. The reason Rose went to Silent Hill is because Sharon has been dreaming about it and also thought it would be a good idea to bring her along.
Why is the demon calling Sharon if it sent her away beforehand? Does it want to merge with her and spread across the world? That would not work because after Sharon returns she remains in her human form. In fact, the demon does nothing the whole time she is in town, making Rose’s search pointless and without dramatic stakes. Sharon’s dreams could be a residual effect of being part demon, but that does not explain why it did not let them leave. Adding stakes is the first thing they teach you when writing and this comes off like a first draft.
In comparison to the source material, most adaptations disappoint, and Silent Hill was off the mark. As a movie, I concede it has good atmosphere and effects. Then the story falls apart. In the end, the film is mostly forgettable, yet the sequel is so much worse. Stay tuned for a follow up.