"Mother is God in the eyes of a child."
This line is repeated twice in "Silent Hill" – the first time just a few minutes into the film and again towards the end. The second time is more memorable because by then "Silent Hill" has revealed its secret, and the truth is disturbing and disgusting yet it is thoughtful. Here's a complex film that understands the horror genre, it has the courage to exalt the absurdity of horror and at the same time it is fearless to challenge us intellectually. "Silent Hill" is beautiful and it is ugly because director Christophe Gans remains true to his inspiration, a highly successful and critically acclaimed videogame series. Like the game the film takes great pleasure in manipulating ideas, aesthetics and sound design to create a savage world based not on logic but on feeling and gut instinct – to the characters Silent Hill may be Hell or Purgatory. Gans has professed his love of John Carpenter's masterpiece "Prince of Darkness," how much he adores its abstraction, how that film works on both a sensory and intellectual level. "Silent Hill" treads the same path; buried beneath the gore and blood and nightmarish imagery is a tender core of pure emotion and even some clever socio-political satire. Thematically the film is a tease for a good 60 minutes but it eventually rewards our patience with its big secret, a harrowing maxim of one little girl's life in a sleepy town of hypocrites and religious zealots. Everything that has happened before the shocking revelation begins to immediately make sense; all the little details fed to us start to resonate. Because "Silent Hill" is able to find a balance of style and substance, a harmony between emotionalism and intellectualism, it works.
Radha Mitchell is a sexy and talented Australian actress who plays Rose in the film. The first scene of "Silent Hill" has her frantic, screaming "Sharon!" which is her 10-year old daughter's name (Jodelle Ferland). We find out that the kid is delusional and suffers from sleepwalking. And like every other afflicted child, we assume, Sharon is also prone to wandering off and using her crayons to paint the occasional demon and mutilated corpse between more normal kiddie stuff like sunflowers and cornfields. (In another film I would have placed sole responsibility for her condition on Al Jazeera's Middle East coverage). Rose's husband Chris (Sean Bean doing a wobbly American accent) is supportive but he is hesitant in allowing his wife to take their daughter to Silent Hill, an allegedly haunted town – which, for once in a movie, they Googled. You see, during her manic episodes Sharon ends up saying Silent Hill over and over again. Rose is compelled to defy her husband by checking out this infamous town in order to find out the facts herself. On her way there she is confronted by a woman police officer, Cybil (Laurie Holden). When Sharon disappears, Cybil will ultimately become Rose's aid and defender against the hellish forces of Silent Hill. Note that with darkness come strange and ghastly beasts that are anything but friendly. Rose and Cybil find themselves trapped in a fiendish community of women all hiding from sinister abrasions. There is an interesting subtext of homoeroticism in the film – Cybil is a tough cop, strong and protective like a man; Rose, on the other hand, is more, shall we say, delicate. It's a fascinating spin on the archetypal male authority figure. Because Silent Hill may well be a feminine dimension this precept provides screenwriter Roger Avary and director Christophe Gans with enough opportunity to embellish issues such as motherhood and immaculate conception and make them an integral part of the storytelling.
It is not difficult to appreciate "Silent Hill's" brilliance most notably in the production and design. The cinematography is sometimes indulgent because Gans seems to be celebrating cinema, moving Dan Laustsen's camera with great enthusiasm, bravely showing the plumbing of the filmmaking process. Carol Spier who is David Cronenberg's lifelong production designer has done phenomenal work here: The sets are unique and lavish; the look of the film is dirty and grim meant to represent an offkilter view of the living. The malevolent creatures are grotesque and the creepy imagery is clearly influenced by Clive Barker's brand of grandiose macabre. Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka and Canadian Jeff Danna's score is atmospheric, contemplative and frightening. It's a versatile work – I hope we can consider how it heightens our emotional connection with the film's beautiful transcendent ending (I dare not reveal it).
"Silent Hill" is smart, subversive and eloquent. There's an artistic sensibility here, a European feel that goes against the grain of bristly Hollywood horror films which rely on a cacophony of special effects and noise to assault the viewer's nervous system. This reminded me of "Dark Water," another horror film unfairly maligned for its measured pace and abstraction. Both films share a powerful mother and child bond underlined by the virtue of sacrifice. "Silent Hill" is a perfect horror film. - Adnan Khan