Before we get into this review properly, it is necessary to define in part the challenge presented by the adaptation of a video game like Silent Hill. A veritable renaissance of survival-horror games, of which Resident Evil was the standard until now, Silent Hill is indeed recognized for having elevated the “psychological” level of distress and horror thanks to universes, atmospheres and scenarios as elaborate as they are audacious, taking significant inspiration from cinema (Lynch, German expressionism, Hitchcock), literature (the Bible, Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King) and painting (Francis Bacon, Jérôme Bosch, H.R. Giger). However, the matrical film amongst all has been Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder and its famous sequence in which the hero, laid on a stretcher, goes through a hospital progressively transforming into a hellish asylum where a bloody middle-age battle would have occurred. Consequently, in its storytelling but mostly as far as imagery goes, the video-ludic saga of Silent Hill proves to be a coherent and evocative mythology. Director Christophe Gans and writer Roger Avary obviously understand this. In fact, to get a general idea of the spirit of this mythology as found in the film, one only has to imagine the blend of sadness and horror that would come from the discovery, at the end of a somber hallway, of a rusty scalpel bathing in the entrails of the fetus of a deformed baby.
That said about the source material, let’s see in what the movie consists – in a word, in what Gans’ contribution consists. Initially, it’s important to point out that the filmmaker never managed so well with his bulimic cinéphilie, which until now was both the strength and the limit of his work. A strength in as much his films consisted so far of passionate, virtuoso reminders of the building of his identity in reference to the images from movies, comic books and video games that made up the sentimental threat of his life. A limit because his films were less sustained narratives than a series of episodes connected to each other. With Silent Hill though, his cinéphilie manifests itself more fully as an intuition in the art of filming than as a compulsion to quote his masters. It is, this time, serving the subject (the adaptation of the game) more than itself.
Starting there, how did Gans structure his film? As an authentic exploration of the world of Silent Hill. In other words, he didn’t fool himself in creating a factitious intrigue, mobilizing characters packed with psychology (though the characters are firmly camped in their simplicity and the story, if in withdrawal), he guessed that upon the richness of the material, he only had to apply himself in ingeniously and especially cinematically presenting it to the viewer and reintroducing it to the gamer. Hence, even though the Silent Hill mythology conveys fears and fascinations that the Freud of The Uncanny wouldn’t have renounced, it is amazing to see to which extent Gans’ mise en scène is physical and visceral. Never has an actress struggled as much to survive an danger emanating from darkness since Cameron’s Aliens. It’s in this fascinating paradox that the picture finds its narrative dynamic. In every survival game, as indicated by the genre’s name itself, the main aspiration of the protagonists is to survive by escaping a threat that can take many forms, the energy thus deployed by them being the irrepressible instinct of survival. In Silent Hill, Gans plays around another instinct, the maternal instinct. Rose (Radha Mitchell) wants to retrieve her daughter lost in Silent Hill, and to that end she’s even ready to “face the darkness of Hell”. In that sense, instead of trying to escape the damned town (which might have been the goal in a traditional survival), she goes deeper into it, flashlight in hand, with savage determination, which can only delight the moviegoer who, overcome by curiosity, only has to accompany her through the disconcerting mysteries of Silent Hill. As for the guide, whose camera is to filmmaking wonders what Trinity running up walls in The Matrix is to action, he just signed what could be his best film (though I have a preference for Le Pacte des loups). And now? Let’s hope he’s thinking of going back to his abandoned Bob Morane project with Vincent Cassel.
Putain que ça pourrait être grandiose!
Review by Jean Carlo Lavoie (translation by K. Laforest)