Saturday, April 22, 2006

beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

In 2002, director Christophe Gans created a masterpiece with Le Pacte des loups (otherwise known as Brotherhood of the Wolf). It was ambitious, smart, and an all-around well-made film with a vibrant and alive mythos populated with strong characters. Now, four years later, the French filmmaker has teamed with Pulp Fiction co-writer and Killing Zoe writer/director Roger Avary (he wrote Silent Hill) to craft one of the very best horror films in quite some time.

Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) have been having issues with their adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), who's taken to sleepwalking and uttering the phrase "Silent Hill". Medication has not helped so Rose decides to take Sharon to the place she keeps uttering, much to Christopher's dismay. But along the way there's a car accident and when Rose awakens from it, Sharon is nowhere to be found. It is in the nearby town of Silent Hill where Rose searches for her daughter, alongside a no-nonsense cop (Laurie Holden) who followed her. The town is seemingly deserted, save for the ash that rains down by day. At night, a blaring siren signals to all in the vicinity that something horrible is coming.

I have never played the video games upon which Silent Hill is based (my video gaming ended somewhere around the Sega Genesis era) but one need not be well-versed in any of the video games to enjoy the film. Christophe Gans and Roger Avary use musical cues, slight CGI, good-old fashioned makeup, and several different film techniques to convey the sheer hellish nature of the decrepit town. Walls melt, moaning demonic babies and barbed wire-covered corpses come alive to help create a vivid and beyond nightmarish landscape. In all of the other video game adaptations so far, the emperor truly had no clothes. With Silent Hill, Gans and company (kudos to Carol Spier's production design) have made a film that feels like the love child of Clive Barker and Dario Argento, a movie that has a carefully detailed backstory (some might say *too* detailed) that gives weight to the otherworldly images we witness.

Some reviews are treating this film as a graphic exercise in sadism and revulsion that only a maniac would view. But then again horror films as a genre have never been given a fair shake. This is not the watered-down PG-13 pablum that most studios are now trying to pass off as a "horror" film. It is a gripping and plot-driven horror film that is head and shoulders above any in a very long while. If you truly enjoy a scary and enjoyable time at the movies, see Silent Hill. It may not reinvent the wheel but it damn sure covers it in gore, with a style and craftsmanship that's really refreshing.

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