Since the Silent Hill video games pioneered many elements that have since come to define J-Horror (living dead girls, beasts shuffling about as if on broken limbs, an atmosphere of irrational terror), it’s difficult to fault Christophe Gans’s adaptation of Konami’s superb interactive series for delivering a few familiar scary sights. Fortunately, the technically proficient Brotherhood of the Wolf director has visual flair to burn, and with his latest, his exquisitely disgusting creatures and production design (all source material-faithful, it should be noted) are frequently more than enough to counteract screenwriter Roger Avary’s clunky attempts to meld dense mythological exposition, game-related references, and bibilical allusions. From its foggy, ash-covered small town to its rotting, mutating building interiors, Silent Hill is a spectacle of the grisly and gory highlighted by some truly repugnant armless/eyeless/faceless monsters (including a pyramid-headed villain who wields an enormous sword and a man hog-tied with barb-wire slithering across a bathroom). And Gans complements these elaborately icky visions of hell—which, in their unnatural synthesis of flesh and metal, feel indebted to the work of Clive Barker—with askew camera angles, encircling pans, and a creepy score (composed of lullaby piano twinkling and metallic clanging) to breed a mood of nightmarish disorientation.
More frustratingly confusing is Avary’s script, which follows Rose (a stilted Radha Mitchell) and adopted child Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) to Silent Hill, a ghost town decimated years earlier by a fire, that the little girl likes to scream about during laughably perilous bouts of sleepwalking near a waterfall’s cliffs. After the duo flee father/husband Christopher (Sean Bean) and a cop (Laurie Holden) and arrive at the titular town, mother and daughter are separated, instigating a maternal-instinct driven quest by Rose which involves descending into Hades, fleeing demons, and combating devout fanatics who, in their desire to avert the apocalypse by righteously burning supposed witches, have unleashed a plague of unholy, vengeful darkness. Combining facets of Dark Water and Rosemary’s Baby with Dante’s Inferno, the Orpheus legend, and the Old and New Testament (via scripture-quoting signs and Rose and Sharon’s symbolic names), the film is detrimentally overstuffed with backstory, unbelievable protagonist behavior, and video game-worthy dialogue that doesn’t improve even when spoken by a wraithlike Deborah Kara Unger or a psychotic Alice Krige. But despite its often-overwhelming nonsensicality, there’s ultimately something irresistibly fiendish about Silent Hill, which not only condemns holier-than-thou religious zealots, but also—if I understand its gruesome finale—seems to be firmly on the side of the Devil.