So I saw Silent Hill on Friday night and I feel as both a gamer and an ex-movie critic, it's my duty to tell you what I thought about the whole thing. Now, let me preface all of this with a few caveats -- I absolutely loved "Brotherhood of the Wolf," the last film from Christophe Gans (who directed Silent Hill), but I'd also seen quite a few bad reviews of the movie when we set foot in the theater, so I figured I'd approach it with an open mind.
The short and skinny for those of you who don't want to read the long-form of my opinion is that this is the best game-to-movie translation yet and while the film isn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, it is an excellent piece of art-house horror-psych cinema. For those who can't bear to read prolonged thoughts and discussion, I give it a B+, so you can go away. For the rest of you, read on...
There are a lot of things that could've gone wrong with the Silent Hill movie. It could've been too unclear or too overexplained; it could've been filmed poorly or too inaccessibly; it could've been made only for fans of the game or it could've been forced into being too accessible. In the end, it's mostly none of these things. What it ends up being is a good translation of the Silent Hill vibe and story concepts with some minor flaws.
If you've played the Silent Hill games, you'll probably get a lot more mileage out of the movie than other people. When the ash-babies show up, you'll start tweaking. When you first see Pyramid Head, you'll get excited in a very nerve wracking way. You'll recognize camera angles and textures, locations and scenes. Amazingly enough, there is so much of the game in this movie that whole sections of the town feel like 3D lept to life. There are some things that I would have liked to have seen from the games that didn't appear, but hey, we can hope for a sequel.
If you haven't played Silent Hill, you may find some of the story a bit convoluted, and it may take a bit of time to digest. Part of the problem I think many people are having with the movie is they went in expecting one thing and got something else. Fans of the Silent Hill games know that the series doesn't pride itself on "jump" moments. Silent Hill has never been about monsters jumping out of the closet -- it's been about that horrible sound coming from the closet that you just have to open anyway. It's not about something grabbing you from behind on the shoulder, it's about the thing shambling towards you that you can't seem to find a way away from. Silent Hill has always been about getting under the skin, and the movie accomplishes this admirably.
The look and feel of the film are definitely the stars of the show. When they finally get to the town of Silent Hill, and that dense fog envelops everything, gamers will rejoice. And when that first siren hits, and the walls turn to black plastic and rusty corrigated metal, a chill will run their spines, just like it did mine. Each new location evokes memories in those who've played the games. "No, don't go in there! I remember what happened in there! You don't wanna go there!" I kept thinking to myself. The more of the Silent Hill games you've played, the more you'll be doing this.
It should be said, however, I have a few problems with the movie. First and foremost, some of the dialogue is flat out bad, even for horror dialogue. There are a couple of lines that the audience laughed at, and while I was annoyed by them laughing, I have to concede that some of them were just awful. Thankfully this is confined to about 4-5 lines, which can mostly be glossed over. More importantly, however, the first 15 minutes of the movie could probably have been cut without much loss. The entire setup is a lot more forced than it is in the game, and since much of the movie was taken from the first game, having it open like the first game did (i.e. right post car-crash) would've been fine. Also, the religious element is played up much more in the movie than it was in the games, and while it was a good change to go that angle, it's a bit browbeating after the third or fourth heavy-handed reference.
Unlike most people I've talked to, I didn't have any problem with the ending. Perhaps there's a little too much explaining going on in the last act of the movie, right before the slightly cryptic ending (which will come as no real shocker to anyone who finished the first game), and maybe it's that contrast of a lot of information to very little that sort of sets people off, but I was okay with it, if not pleased with it.
On the whole, Silent Hill is the most original and yet most faithful video game adaptation we've seen yet on the silver screen. The things I liked about the videogame were there, and the things that needed to be added or changed to make it more cinematic were mostly done with a deft hand. Despite its minor flaws, it seems like audiences are positively responding to the majority of the film (although everyone laughs at that one bad, bad line -- which is fair) and I hope it does well enough to merit a second one.