20 years after its release, Silent Hill is one of the most most beloved horror franchises in all of video games. From an excellent initial trilogy of games to sequels that vary wildly in terms of quality, Silent Hill is the definition of a classic video game franchise. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good likelihood you’re not just a cinephile, but a gamer too. While talking about film is my job (and man do I love it) gaming will forever be my passion, a fun escape from the drudgery that is work. I unwind late at night with a fun game and a snack and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For October, I decided to play through all of the Silent Hill games and while I’m currently playing through Silent Hill 4: The Room, I decided to do something that would make most diehard Silent Hill fans wince; I watched the movie. Yes, back in 2006, before Silent Hill was put down Old Yeller style by Konami, a film adaptation of the original Silent Hill was released to very mixed reviews not only from critic, but by fans of the franchise. No one could agree on whether or not Silent Hill was a good movie, let alone a good video game adaptation.
But after immersing myself in the lore of Silent Hill for the past month I feel like I can honestly say that Silent Hill is a pretty good movie. Not only that, but it’s probably the most faithful adaptation of the source material we could have gotten given the circumstances. In fact, I’ll go a step further. I believe that Silent Hill is easily one of the best video game based movies ever made. Low bar, I know, but still an achievement nonetheless.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the story of Silent Hill is almost a direct copy of the original game’s plot with some notable character changes. Basically, a mother named Rose de Silva and her daughter Sharon travel to the abandoned town of Silent Hill in order to calm Sharon’s frequent nightmares where she screams the town’s name. While there, Rose gets separated from Sharon and has to find her, only to instead find hordes of monsters that are trying to rip her face off and an evil cult that is dead set on trying to find Sharon and sacrifice both her and Rose, believing them to be witches.
No, I don’t know why the character names were changed from the original game. While some people may scream that such a decision makes this an unfaithful movie, it’s really not a big deal to me. Regardless of whether the little girl is named Sharon or Cheryl, she still goes missing and has to be find by her guardian. Her function is the exact same. What’s much more interesting is the gender change of our protagonist. Originally our main character was Harry Mason, a single father, but replacing Harry with Rose creates an interesting scenario for the movie. Namely, we have a mainstream horror movie with an all female cast.
Outside of some forced scenes that were not originally part of the script where Sean Bean looks for Rose and Sharon, the main plot is driven entirely by women. Our heroes are women, our villains are women, and it creates an environment that feels different, yet refreshing. In doing so, a lot of the major themes are now tied to motherhood, like the correlation between Rose and Dahlia Gillsepie, the mother of a girl that we sacrificed by the cult in Silent Hill, as well as the leader of said cult Christabella.
While your mileage may vary on how well the movie handles these themes, you can’t deny that director Christophe Gans legitimately cared about the source material. Between recreations of camera angles from the introduction of the first game, as well as some wonderfully nightmarish creatures like the Grey Children and this movie’s interpretation of Lisa Garland, Gans crafted a movie that feels like it was built out of love for the franchise. It’s so easy to see what a Silent Hill movie made by committee would look like, because the sequel to this movie, Silent Hill: Revelation, is exactly that. It’s an awful movie that completely drops the ball on every front, painting Silent Hill as just a spooky town inhabited by monsters. When comparing the two, the original movie clearly has effort and time put into its plot and structure while the sequel was just to cash in on the franchise.
Granted, that love may have gone a bit too far and had an unfortunate side effect on the franchise moving forward. If you’ve never played a Silent Hill game, each entry is stuffed with heavily symbolic creatures that have distinct roles in the narratives of each game. The creatures in Silent Hill 3 cannot be transplanted into Silent Hill: Downpour because then the message that the game tries to convey would be muddied significantly. Basically, each creature works in context of the game they were drawn from, yet Silent Hill draws creatures from several games in the franchise. Most notably, Pyramid Head and the “Sexy Nurses” were taken from Silent Hill 2, a game designed around the main character’s complicated relationship with his dead wife. Without spoiling what those monsters represent, those themes do not translate to the original game, ergo, they don’t translate to the film. But they’re still featured prominently because they’re “iconic to the series.” That iconic status would cause Pyramid Head and the Sexy Nurses to appear in future games without context, but that’s a whole other can of worms for a different day.
While many people may groan at this, and I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of such a decision, the out of context creature appearances only factor into three scenes in the entire movie. In the grand scheme of things, they’re nitpicks, yet their cameos still create some of the best moments in the movie. Sure, Pyramid Head has no place in the story of Silent Hill, but you cannot tell me that seeing him rip the flesh off of a crazed cultist and throw it at Rose wasn’t gruesome in the best way possible.
Another point in the movie’s favor is that it uses a healthy amount of music from the series composer, Akira Yamaoka. Yamaoka’s score is chilling and haunting to listen to on a good day and conveys such a sense of loneliness and isolation that it’s almost palpable. Without his music, Silent Hill most likely would have been just another horror movie. But when the movie starts up and you hear that iconic opening synonymous with the series, you know you’re in safe hands.
This isn’t meant to be some kind of a relevatory statement on how we all ignored how good Silent Hill actually is, because I feel like it’s been getting a more positive reevaluation in recent years. The movie is slowly endearing itself back into the hearts of horror fans and for good reason. It has some quality monsters, a setting that still stands out to this day, and an execution that screams love and care. In a world where video games movies are mostly misses and horror movies become less and less personal, this Halloween, give Silent Hill a watch. If Konami isn’t going to acknowledge the series on its 20th anniversary, someone should at least bother to.