silent hill

Returning to Silent Hill

silent hill james sunderland

I love Silent Hill. I don’t think that’s much of a secret, I’ve mentioned it more than a few times on this blog previously, but I do think that Silent Hill 2 and 3 represent the pinnacle of horror gaming. It’s not just the gameplay — which, in some aspects, is actually calculatedly attrocious —  but rather the harmonised working of atmosphere, story and character along with the immersive aspect of gaming worked to a perfect crescendo of terror.

If you don’t know what I mean, play Silent Hill 2 late at night, in the dark, with the lights off. See how long you last.

Sadly, after Silent Hill 3 the series went starkly downhill. I haven’t played Silent Hill 4: The Room (from what I hear, it gets an A for effort but an F for execution), but those following it have been decidedly lacking.

Now, though, there is apparently going to be a new Silent Hill game, called Silent Hills. And it’s going to be made by Hideo Kojima, Japanese game maker extraordinaire. Oh, and Guillermo del Toro. And it looks like it could be a return to what Silent Hill is meant to be.

Read on…

Silent Hill Revelation – A Review

The problem with adapting things like Silent Hill to cinema, is that you’re never going to get it really right. The Silent Hill games (SH2 and SH3) are some of the best horror experiences that I’ve had, and part of that is down to the immersive and claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s something which is always going to be less effective on film, and whilst I’m sure that in the minds of filmmakers 3D is meant to address that problem, it really really doesn’t.

So whilst I sincerely hoped that Silent Hill Revelation would capture the true spirit of the games, I had mentally prepared myself for extreme disappointment.

I think it’s for that reason that Silent Hill Revelation got off fairly lightly. It was a long way from perfect, and certainly wasn’t the Silent Hill that used to terrify and excite me in equal measures. But I left the cinema a lot happier than I had expected to be, which is about as much of a win as it’s going to get.

Following on from the first Silent Hill film, SHR adapts the video game Silent Hill 3, and sees Heather/Sharon/Alessa/you get the idea (Adelaide Clemens) return to the eponymous town to save her father Harry/Christopher (Sean Bean), kidnapped by the creepy cultists who weren’t quite gotten rid of in the first instalment. Along the way she’s joined by Vincent (Kit “Jon Snow” Harrington), and pursued by all the traditional horrors of the franchise (and Carrie-Anne Moss).

The names thing is a touch confusing, prompting a tongue-in-cheek admission from Heather:

Names don’t really matter.

There are some major drawbacks to the film, which seriously damage its enjoyability. Chief of these is the script. I don’t know what happened to all the horror scriptwriters who can actually write good dialogue (maybe they got really drunk at a party and annoyed everybody?), but this stuff is dreadful. There’s hardly a line which didn’t make me cringe, and the best sequences were the silent ones.

Linked to that, there were two other points. Firstly, don’t make Sean Bean do an American accent. He can’t — it comes out as butchered Scottish. Let him do his thing in full-bodied Yorkshire, and be bloody well happy with that. Secondly, nobody does good exposition any more. I get that some people will be confused if you don’t have the characters laboriously explain everything which happens, but really? The whole scene with Harry and the mirror (not to mention the woeful conclusion speech)  was unnecesary, and clunked like an old man with two wooden legs.

Finally, the mannequin creature. Picture, if you will, General Grievous from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by way of the robot from I, Robot, and you have a sense of how ridiculous this was. I personally find mannequins quite scary, but this was just daft. Added to the fact that it didn’t fit with a compendium of fleshy and organic monsters, and it felt like a Lego construction squatting on the film like…well, a giant mannequin spider.

But as I said at the start, it didn’t disappoint as much as I’d feared. Part of that was that someone had clearly actually played the games beforehand, and it was peppered with little references for fans. Pyramid Head is a long way from his original purpose, but they gave him a new one and he was at once scary and sympathetic, which is quite impressive. He’s a different beast to his one initial incarnation.

And the end makes mentions of some of the other Silent Hill games, which is sort of nice, but also like erecting a sign saying “Look, we’re based on something!” And still nothing of the best of the lot.

In summary, it was a distinctly average film to me. It avoided some of the potholes it could have fallen into, but only succumbed to even more obvious ones. It could have been better, but so too it could have been much, much worse. And I’d still far rather see this than yet-another-bloody Paranormal Activity film.

Silent House – A Review

Silent House [2012]

I usually don’t review DVD releases here, preferring to stick to films currently showing at cinemas, on the basis that even fewer people are probably interested in what I think once a film has seen a DVD release. But occasionally I’ll make exceptions, when a film is particularly good or particularly awful.

Silent House, for me, falls into the former category.

The plot didn’t strike me as anything terribly unusual or exciting. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is repairing a countryside holiday home with her father and uncle. When her uncle goes into town Sarah hears strange noises upstairs, which her father investigates for her, before going missing with a loud and violent-sounding crash. Cue the realisation that they aren’t alone in the house, and a fraught and frenetic rush to get out of the house as her sanity crumbles under the strain.

So nothing ground-breaking there. But where it does deviate from the standard, by-the-numbers horror fare is in how it is made. The first and most noticeable thing is that it is all a single take (else very cleverly edited to make it look like a single take). The real-time element was heavily trailed in the promotional material, and it’s a pretty effective gimmick.

The other main feature is the use of a hand camera. This isn’t a new idea, and has been done effectively (the Battlestar Galactica remade series springs to mind), as well as poorly (no end of wobbly found-footage films following the Blair Witch Project, for instance). Here, however, it works because the camera isn’t held by Sarah, but follows her very closely.

She is continually at the centre of the camera’s attention, as it lingers just over her shoulder or in front of her face. In fact, most of the developments are revealed to the audience firstly through Sarah’s reaction to them — a scream and terrified expression followed by the camera wheeling to look at whatever it is.

It’s a hypnotic technique, which combined with the dark and claustrophobic confines of the house puts the audience more effectively into her shoes. And in terms of creating an atmosphere, the fact that it doesn’t rely on “jump moments” for the scary. Not that there’s anything wrong with jump moments, but they can feel like lazy horror sometimes. Instead, Silent House puts you in Sarah’s position, and then slowly ramps up the tension and terror, and then either lets it ebb away with a sense of relief, or scares the life out of you.

I found it extremely effective.

And it would be unfair not to mention the acting talents of Elizabeth Olsen. The whole film is more or less a one woman show, and it’s pretty plain to see where all the acting talent in that family wound up. Unusually, most of the acting is through her facial expressions, and I expect the majority of actors would not be able to communicate such a range of emotion and meaning through that medium alone.

The visuals and some of the ideas behind it seem strongly reminiscent of the Silent Hill games — another premier example of horror — with toilets on the wall weeping blood, and mould spreading rapidly across the house. Similarly, the blurring of the line between madness and the supernatural, and the idea of memory and a “personal” flavour of horror characterised by oppression and claustrophobia is a roost that Silent Hill rules.

It was successful, in that it was scary and brilliantly acted, but I was left with a nagging feeling that it could have been perfect had the same effort been put into the script and plot. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but when everything else is so cutting edge, run-of-the-mill stands out a mile off and feels a little lacklustre.

But in the end, this was a very exciting approach to horror, and is well worth watching for that alone.

Anticipating Silent Hill Revelations

Yesterday, I watched the above video. It is the first I have seen of the upcoming Silent Hill film, so I was quite interested to see what it heralded.

As a bit of background, I’m a huge Silent Hill fan. For the most part, this consists of replaying the second and third games over and over, and wincing every time a new game is released. It’s a hard life, being a fan.

To me, the video games Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 are two of the best examples of horror I know. They are, to me and to a great many others, genuinely scary. Playing them as a kid, I was always scared out of my mind and it was that feeling to which I became addicted, and which led me into the horror world proper.

I still don’t know what it is about them that does it so perfectly for me. Something in the atmosphere, the pace, the way it doesn’t rush in and go for the jugular. In both, you spend a good deal of time wandering around before jumping at shadows before you even see a slaving nasty. It creates an incredibly effective sense of being lost and alone with something that doesn’t like you much, and is toying with you.

Like I said, two of the best examples of horror I know.

And then there’s the film. I don’t know what to think of it really. If it wasn’t billed as Silent Hill then it would probably have been a good horror film. But the title to me carries higher responsibilities. And whilst it wasn’t bad as horror films go, it was a bit of a mess. Particularly Sean Bean’s scenes, where he was basically tasked with twiddling his thumbs as a side plot.

But, and I’m a little wary of saying this, but the trailer for its sequel Silent Hill Revelations. Yes, Pyramid Head and the zombie nurses make their usual seemingly-obligatory incongruous appearances, but Sean Bean appears to have a bigger role. And it looks like it’s heavily based on the plot of Silent Hill 3. Which is always good.

I never underestimate the potential for Hollywood to cock up a good thing, but I’m sort of looking forward to this. After the mess when I wanted to watch a horror film last Autumn, I think I’ll take this.