Silent Hill Movie Analysis: Part One
The long and tumultuous relationship between movies and games is a well documented one. There are countless reviews and websites that discuss the sordid details, but not here. Instead I will take an example of, in my opinion, quite possibly the best game-to-movie adaptation (other suggestions welcome) that there has been in modern times and fully analyse it as best I can.
“Silent Hill” is a much beloved franchise, both in game and now in movie format. Personally the 2006 film is a stunning masterclass in how to make a visually beautiful and atmospheric film that not only stuns the audience with dark and gory imagery but haunts us with its story and chilling symbolism.
Although I have indeed played the original 1999 “Silent Hill” game for the PlayStation, this analytical review will not solely focus on which parts of the film have been adapted from the game – instead I want to use this space to point out great moments in the film, awesome imagery, fantastic camera angles, interesting facts and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Please enjoy and feel free to comment if I have missed anything. Part One will focus on the first half hour of the film.
00:00:01 A Familiar Mandolin While the opening credits roll, original “Silent Hill” gamers are treated to the sound that haunted the end of 1990s for them. (Listen HERE)
00:00:34 Noisy Neighbours The film opens with a topless Sean Bean (put it away!) atop the balcony of a very nice looking house. Radha Mitchell runs into shot screaming the name of their daughter, in what will become a recurring line from her character (watch a funny compilation video HERE!) Executive Producer Andrew Mason revealed the owners of the actual house used to film this scene in Toronto had “no idea of the kind of film they were allowing into their house” so when it came time for them to attend the premiere, they were quite shocked.
00:01:08 Cheryl’s Return As Rose (Radha Mitchell) searches for Sharon in a graffitied tunnel, the name Cheryl appears on the wall of the tunnel. A sly nod to the name of the the little girl’s character in the original game.
00:01:27 The Swooping Crane Rose daintily darts from one slimy rock to another as she runs towards the waterfall, take note however that this shot is being filmed by a gigantic crane mounted camera that is constantly moving as it follows our heroine. Just one of many amazing camera angles thanks to cinematographer Dan Laustsen. This opening scene was filmed entirely on location in Toronto.
00:02:05 Fog and Mirrors Sharon stands precariously close to the edge of the cliffside, the camera pans over the top and down to reveal her nightmarish alter ego. This shot was created entirely from computer special effects, superimposed over the top of the shot of the waterfall bedrock.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Sharon stands at the edge of the waterfall: “One’s Weaker Self” (Silent Hill 3 Complete Soundtrack)
00:02:11 Cut the Wires As was the case with many shots throughout the film, several of the leading actors performed their own stunts. In order to do this wires were used to make sure the actors were safe from harm. As seen here, special effects were used to erase the wires in post production, making the entire thing seamless and as if the actors were in actual peril at the side of the cliff.
00:02:14 Don’t Kill Sean Convincing as the final scene may be – no the makers of this film did not make Sean Bean run across a busy road. Using techniques invented and perfected by Robert Zemeckis in the “Back to the Future” films, the special effects team used the old motion control procedure to first film Sean running across an empty street, then filmed the exact same shot sans-Sean but with cars and lorries driving down the road. Superimpose the two identical shots over one another and you have the final product.
00:03:05 The Cross Let’s start the list of “huh?” moments from this film with the giant lit-up cross that appears at the beginning of the film. After my first viewing, I must admit I did think it was a very in your face piece of symbolism that matched up perfectly with the recurring theme of religion and Christianity that runs throughout the film, but it did leave a giant question mark in my mind. However, it turns out the cross was actually a monument constructed on-location in Toronto by the local authorities – the filmmakers decided to include it in the film, clearly to make us all question it’s purpose.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing while Chris, Sharon and Rose embrace: “Ordinary Vanity” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
00:03:20 The Beginning The opening scene works perfectly as a way of introducing the audience to the DaSilva family and to the story as a whole. We have a small family who are being troubled by the daughter’s vicious nightmares about a place called Silent Hill. And that is the main storyline. Simple. Underlying though throughout this opening are the main themes of the film though. There is an overprotective mother, and a father who is always two steps behind both physically and mentally. The fact Chris DaSilva is last to come to the aid of his daughter, he is by himself as he crosses the busy street, he was inside the house while his wife was already outside searching all lay the subconscious notions that he is not wholeheartedly involved in this family unit as his wife is…
00:05:20 Rose’s Multicoloured Costume As the film properly begins, after the ashy SILENT HILL title-card dissolves, we find Rose and Sharon relaxing under a tree on a beautiful summers day. No sign of Chris, once again, just the mother and daughter relationship. We also see Rose’s costume for the first time – here in it’s natural state. Costume designer Wendy Partridge designed over 100 different copies of the same costume, ranging from this summery version we first see in this scene, right through to the blood red version at the end of the movie. Notice Rose looking at her phone in this scene and ignoring whoever is calling her…
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose and Sharon relax on the hill: “Laura Plays The Piano” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
00:05:44 The Foreshadowing Corinthians Following on with the theme of religion that plays throughout this film, it just so happens that the field in which Rose and Sharon were relaxing in also contains a giant wooden sign that depicts a bible quote… Once again a “huh?” moment, but also very relevant to the story.
“Roger Avary was obsessed with that quote, so he desperately wanted to have it in the movie” – SÉBASTIEN PRANGÈRE, FILM EDITOR
00:06:00 All By Myself The next scene once again portrays Sean Bean’s character by himself. He is trying to call Rose to find out where she is. The opening scene is the first, last and only time we see the all three characters together within the movie. This is perhaps due to the fact the original script only contained female characters. When the script was returned to Roger Avary with a note from the studio saying “there are no men!”, the story was altered to include the characters of Chris DaSilva and Detective Gucci. This makes the film have a sort of double-sided feel to it, as if we are watching two different movies at once.
00:06:25 Ghost Towns of America Oops… Rose should have deleted her browser history. Chris looks up http://www.ghosttownsofamerica.web and discovers Rose’s plan. At the time of the movie being released, the website was an actual proper link that took you to the Official Movie Website. This scene was Sean Bean’s first day of filming, these were his first shots to be filmed. As revealed by Executive Producer Andrew Mason, Sean had been the victim of an “over enthusiastic security team” while trying to enter the country at Albuquerque Airport, who detained him as a suspected terrorist. Production Assistant Harriet Spalding was sent to go and pick him up.
00:06:50 On the Road The filmmakers decided it was more practical to film all the car scenes against green-screen so that they were within a controlled environment. I must say, the backgrounds to these car scenes are magnificent and these are the best “filmed against a backdrop” car scenes I have ever seen.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Chris searches internet, and as Rose drives down road: “Innocent Moon” (Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack)
00:07:12 Cybil’s Entrance Christophe Gans, the director, originally wanted Cameron Diaz to play the part of Officer Cybil Bennett. This moment in the film marks the introduction to the second female protagonist, and a character that remains strong and defiant throughout.
00:08:02 The Next Rolf Harris As Sharon and her mom arrive at the gas station, Rose discovers that all of little Sharon’s artwork has been defaced. When questioned, Sharon has no recollection of doing it. This moment reveals to the audience there is another side to Sharon, a darker side, or a demon side to her personality. Something is not quite right here. The closeup shots of the hands holding the sketchbook were done months after initial filming had begun, a fact Christophe Gans reveals as a time saving part of any film production. The “splinter unit” go back and recreate closeup shots for the film, spending time getting the lighting and the set up absolutely perfect. It is almost impossible to spend the time during a location shoot (such as this at the Gas Station) to get the framing and lighting for such a small shot just right.
00:08:50 Road Don’t Go Through No More The gas station scene is, for me, a very poignant scene within the movie. It marks the last time Rose will see “normal” human life, it is the final place she will visit before entering Silent Hill, and also the last proper contact she has with Chris. The fact the whole scene takes place at nighttime, in the dark, visually is very contrasting to when she finally arrives in the bright world of Silent Hill, the fact this is where Rose first meets Cybil and is very cautious of her, and vice versa. This scene, from an audience point of view, marks the last time these characters will see the real world. The gas station is an actual location in Toronto, I point this out for reasons that will become clear later on.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing on radio inside Gas Station: “Waiting For You” (Silent Hill 4 Original Soundtrack)
00:09:09 Stranger Danger Sharon’s first encounter with Cybil is quite an ominous one… For an experienced cop she should know she’s not likely to get anything out of a little girl if she’s got her head and face covered up. Here we have a scene with the three female leads. The overprotective mother, the innocent girl and the butch cop. Building the foundation here for the themes of the film, the next time these three women share a scene together it is quite quite different…
“Now you could argue that the little girl should have been scared of somebody coming up to the car with the helmet still on and the glasses still on. If the cop was looking to get to have a nice conversation with a small child, that was the scariest way of doing it.” – ANDREW MASON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
00:09:54 Five Days Work Sean Bean only worked on this film for five days, spaced throughout the course of three weeks. His schedule was split between working on this film, and working on “North Country“. Easy for some. The scene between Chris and Rose on the phone to one another, arguing over him cancelling the cards, is the last time Rose will ever properly speak to Chris. Take note anyone wanting to write a sequel to this film, nowhere in this scene, or anywhere else, does Rose refer to Chris as “my love”…
00:10:42 The Road to Nowhere The aerial shots of the road to Silent Hill were digital matte paintings created entirely by Toronto based craft house Invisible Pictures. The image gives a very nice surreal feeling to it as if it was a bridge into the strange world that Rose is about to enter.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing in car on the road to Silent Hill: “Letter From Lost Days” (Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack)
00:12:56 From Silent Hill (1999) to Silent Hill (2006) The scene of Cybil chasing Rose and Sharon down the cliffside road is almost identical to the same scene from the original game. Although the film was slated by many fans of the original games for not adhering to several main plot points from the original game, and for deviating from the original plot so much, there are still loving nods scattered throughout the film to the original game series. Christophe Gans was a fan of the franchise after all, and so throughout the film we find many similarities and easter eggs to the original series. This entire scene of the chase, including the crash at the end when Rose sees Alessa crossing the road, is a carefully recreated copy of the game.
00:13:50 The Big Old Sugar Factory The first scene that takes place within the city limits of Silent Hill opens in a bright grey hue of foggy light, as Rose awakens in her car after crashing into the ditch. This entire cliffside road section was a set built inside an old abandoned sugar factory in Toronto. The filmmakers discovered it and built a scale replica of a highway, along with Welcome sign and cliffside rocks inside the old factory. Because this was not an official film studio, there was no air conditioning or temperature control, and with the big powerful lights used to light the shots, temperatures could climb to 40°C. I enjoy how all the scenes filmed in the “real world” (namely at the gas station, at the DaSilva home, the orphanage, the truck stop) were all filmed at real life locations, whereas most of the scenes filmed that take place in Silent Hill were shot in studios and reconstructed sets. It gives a different feel to the shots and scenes that take place in the town.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose discovers Sharon is missing from the car: “Killed by Death” (Silent Hill Original Soundtrack)
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose wanders down the road and discovers the “ashes”: “The Day of Night” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose runs past the Welcome sign and into Silent Hill: “Hear Nothing” (Silent Hill Original Soundtrack)
00:14:56 And It Was All Green There is a shot of Rose walking down the main street into the town, where the camera swoops directly around her, as she scans the area for Sharon that was filmed entirely on green-screen. This scene makes the transition from the cliffside highway road (a set built in the factory) to the real world location of Brantford, Ontario. Downtown Brantford had become derelict and run down towards the middle of the 2000’s, which was perfect for the streets needed to replicate the decayed and ghost-town effect of Silent Hill. Many residents of Brantford jested that not much work had to be done to the place to make it feel “decayed and haunted”.
00:15:29 The Town That Wasn’t There Filming in Brantford lasted four days. Production designers and set dressers added fake facades to many buildings to reference actual shops and stores that featured in the games. Fake ash and dirt was pumped onto the streets and windows of the buildings to add to the decaying effect. As is seen in the above image, the special effects team not only worked at erasing cars and scenery from shots but also the tracks on the ground for the camera to move along.
00:15:44 Empty Rooms As Rose is spinning around (move out of her way) like her Australian buddy Kylie, and the camera is also spinning around her to create what is called in the cinematography world the SPIN LOOK method, we catch a glimpse of one of the stores behind her. M.T. Rooms Used Furniture. This is an inside joke referring to the fact most of buildings are mere facades with nothing behind them or inside them, just like in the game – empty rooms.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing at the start of the pursuit of Sharon: “Clockwork Little Happiness” (Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack)
00:16:21 The Fake Fog What makes this film so atmospherically rich and crisp and goose-bump inducing is the echoic silence of the fog shrouded town. Every scene that takes place inside the fog realm of Silent Hill is so mystifyingly beautiful thanks to the constant fog and falling ash. Film editor Sébastien Prangère revealed that the visual effects company C.O.R.E added all the fog and ash effects in post production.
“Again the problem of not possibly being able to put fog over such a huge area – obviously you can put film fog into a scene if it is on a stage where you can control the movement of the air and the extent and the density of the fog. But on a location it always looks like drifting smoke, so if you want to have it look like an even mist into the distance you have to add it later.” – ANDREW MASON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose chases Sharon down the alleyways: “Nothing Else” (Silent Hill Original Soundtrack)
00:18:10 An Awkward Alley Again, Christophe Gans manages to add a little loving nod to the original game, by completely copying an awesome and memorable (certainly as someone who remembers playing the original game) camera angle as Rose stumbles down the dark alleyway.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as the darkness comes: “Block Mind” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
00:19:00 The Darkness Has Come Although credited as being filmed in PanaVision, certain scenes of the movie were filmed on High Definition Digital Cameras. Every scene that takes place in the dark, rustic realm of Silent Hill was filmed in High Definition. This was done because the filmmakers didn’t want it to be obvious there was studio lighting to light the set. Instead, visual effects company C.O.R.E used a program on the footage to pick up on and accentuate any natural light that was seen in a certain shot, which they could pick and chose which specific light source to accentuate. As well as the flame on her Zippo lighter, Radha Mitchell also carried a small LED torch that was used to light up her face.
00:19:55 It’s all in the Eyes Creature effects and special effects makeup artist Paul Jones and his team were credited highly for their work on this film. The gruesome hanging miner that Rose stumbles upon was made by Paul Jones – and it is his eyes that can be seen behind the miner’s mask in the closeup shot.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose discovers the hanging miner, and encounters the grey child: “Black Fairy” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
00:20:03 The Grey Child There are certain characters (creatures) that when adapting a game to a movie, you simply have to recreate. The Grey Child is a symbolic, disturbing depiction of Alessa’s classmates as seen through her eyes. Their appearance in the game marks the end of the main characters life… I remember the first time playing the game, when Harry was killed by the grey child thinking it was impossible to defeat or get away from the little buggers, until I realised it was just part of the game that everyone had to go through. In the film, the grey child is depicted by Japanese dancer Yvonne Ng, who never actually got to meet her co-star Radha Mitchell face to face because she was always in costume. The costume was made of thick latex that meant Yvonne could barely hear or communicate with people, and needed to use a pipe fitted into the costume if she ever wanted to, em, spend a penny.
00:21:13 The Ring of Fire The only piece of music in the entire film that doesn’t come directly from the games, Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire plays as Rose awakens in the bowling alley. In the game, Harry awakens in a cafe to find Cybil waiting for him. There is a part of me that wishes this is what happened in the movie… But alas.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose runs back through the streets of town: “Stray Child” (Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack)
00:23:25 A First Class Secondary Character As Rose discovers, the whole town is blocked off from every road by the small fact there is no road out of Silent Hill… Instead a sheer drop into a foggy abyss lies in wait. After this realisation, a voice from behind her makes her turn around – and she is faced with the character of Dahlia. With many films it is easy to make secondary characters quite worthless… They fly in, make a brief cameo then fly out and their point in the overall film is meaningless. However here, Dahlia serves as a very meaningful secondary character. Her role is pivotal to the overall story of the movie, and her appearance in a scene makes it worthwhile. In “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” her role is diminished to a single scene, and her character becomes a very forgettable cameo. Thankfully here, she is used to drive the plot. Every time we meet her character she delivers a new revelation, a new point to the storyline.
00:23:35 Colour My World With Green The entire scene between Rose and Dahlia was filmed against a green screen, on top of the highway road set built inside the old sugar factory. On the day of filming this scene, they experimented with using fake fog – but found that it did not work against the green screen, and made it near impossible for the visual effects artists to work with. Coupled with that was the fact it took forever to clear the old factory of the smoke after it had been pumped inside the building.
“Never put smoke on a green screen” – CHRISTOPHE GANS, DIRECTOR
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose meets Dahlia for first time: “Never Forgive Me, Never Forget Me” (Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack)
00:25:08 Here’s Some More Men Looking back on the scenes with Sean Bean, I am not sure whether they help the audience or hinder us. The intention with these scenes is to give the audience an anchor in the real world and also provide us with the concept of the passing of time. Breaking up the scenes inside Silent Hill ruins the hopeless nature of the scenes, and the cruelty of Rose’s time inside the town.
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose makes her way back to the car and discovers Sharon’s drawings: “Promise (Reprise)” (Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack)
00:27:00 We Cannot Connect Your Call Did Rose really think she would have cell phone coverage there?
AKIRA ALERT Song playing as Rose calls Chris from the car: “Follow the Leader” (Silent Hill Original Soundtrack)
00:29:16 Gucci’s Entrance Here we are introduced to Detective Gucci, played by Kim Coates. This character, like the character of Dahlia, plays a pivotal role in the backstory of this film, and is also a very well rounded secondary character. As the Cybil to Chris’ Rose, his character serves as the logical and clear thinking one whilst Rose and Chris go out their minds at the thought of a purgatory town. I do enjoy the scenes with Gucci and Chris, it is an interesting dynamic between this pair against Cybill and Rose. The mirror image of the two, one searching for a way out of the town, the other searching for a way deeper inside the town…
END OF PART ONE