I’m going to do something that I usually try very hard to avoid in a review. I’m going to plop a spoiler into it. Not only that, I’m going to do it in the very first paragraph. I’m going to do it for two reasons. One, it’s integral to the bitch slap I’m about to administer. Two, there is the chance that a spoiler might keep someone from paying money for this piffle. Here it is. SILENT HILL, the film, posits a band of wild-eyed religious fanatics doing nasty things in the name of purification. How can anyone take a premise that rife with promise, not to mention a certain amount of timeliness, and blow it so completely? Such ineptitude in the face of something that in any other hands would be a sure thing boggles the mind.
SILENT HILL, the place, is a ghost town in West Virginia to which Rose (Radha Mitchell) has taken her nine-year-old daughter, Sharon (a less than creepy Jodelle Ferland). There she hopes to discover why Sharon murmurs the name of the place while sleepwalking on cliffs in the middle of the night. Since hubby Sean Bean would rather just up the dosage of Sharon’s medication, Rose steals out from their comfortable home in Ohio and drives all day and all night stopping only to ask for directions from the locals at a rural spot so small that its one edifice is a combination diner, gas station, tattoo parlor, body piercing emporium, and notary public. Her request is met with the usual villager response to strangers asking the way to the local cursed spot, but Rose is undeterred by that and by the lateness of the hour. Not even being asked to pull over by local cop, Cybil Bennet (Laurie Holden), chic in her skin-tight leather pants and reflective sunglasses, slows her down. In fact, it makes her speed up, crash through the gates put up by authorities to keep people out, and, of course, promptly wreck her car. When she awakes, Sharon is gone, the car won’t start, and, worst of all, her cell phone service is spotty.
The town, deserted thirty years earlier because of an underground coal fire that is still raging, is a place of falling ash, rising damp, and peculiar creatures that are sorta kinda human, but not. Mostly they lumber around peevishly, annoying to varying degrees the humans that find themselves in their midst. And considering the shrieks with which they are greeted by Rose when they make an appearance, their attitude makes sense.
Little else does in this feature film version of the computer game of the same name. What those creatures are, exactly, is never explained beyond being an obstacle to scare the behoosis out of Rose on her quest to find Sharon. Officer Cybil offers a less shrill reaction when she shows up in town, but not even her cool professional air can help Rose, a person who when choosing a weapon with which to defend herself, picks a butter knife. A big butter knife, to be sure, but one can’t help but wonder if Rose is under the impression that the kinda sorta human thingys will be coming at her with lemon curd.
Such a thing would have injected a moment of actual entertainment to this thuddingly tedious exercise, and been as logical as anything else to be found. Rose, with and without Officer Cybil, screams her head off as she meanders from place to place with the flimsiest of clues to lead her, and with no definable story arc to lead the audience. By the time we get to the religious fanatics led by the charismatic by obviously nuts Valtiel (Alice Krige), an insurmountable inertia has set in underscored by a color scheme of grays and almost grays and by direction by Christophe Gans that turns even the usual jump-and-scream variety of horror movie clichés into wobble-and-yawn moments.
SILENT HILL is about as terrifying as several pages of single-spaced programming code. Granted, that sort of thing can be daunting, but scary, not so much. The effects are derivative and second-rate, the acting is rudimentary, and the resolution is as infuriating as it is obtuse.