Silent Hill has two things going for it right off the bat: the director and writer. The director was the creative mind behind the very aesthetically pleasing "Brotherhood of the Wolf." Roger Avary, who wrote the screenplay, has written some true classics in the past for the likes of, most notably, Quentin Tarantino; including Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe and True Romance, just to name a few. Unfortunately, the movie also has two things going against it right off the bat. One, the movie was not screened for critics before nation-wide release. This is 99% of the time a bad omen for any film and/or movie patron. Two, it's a video game movie; and video game movies always suck. Period.
So how did Silent Hill fare? Well, to keep this review short for some of you, if you've never played the game or aren't a real fan of the game, don't bother. You'll be confused and just won't get what all these creatures running around are and the whole premise will probably just seem ludicrous. It's possible that straight-up gore (not the ex-vice president) fans will dig it, simply for the ferocity and gross out creatures; but otherwise most non-fans will be at a loss.
So, reviewing this as a huge fan of the game, I am instantly biassed. However, after watching the movie, I'm positive the film was made for the fans of the game. I have no doubt of that. So this bias is probably a good thing and something you're not going to find from Ebert or AO Scott (I assume they never played the game).
Straight away, what struck me was the music. It's a key mood setter, it's original and quirky and EXACTLY like the music in the game. That would be the biggest similarity. I could write paragraph after paragraph about each indivdual similarity between the game and the film, but I won't. Just know that if you've played even a couple hours of the game (specifically Silent Hill 2 probably), you'll see characters you recognize, camera angles as though you're controlling it yourself, identical looking maps and locations (even Taluca Lake), creepy voice overs, perfectly laid out urban areas and settings and more.
As it's been a few years since I've played the games, I was delighted at how much I recognized. I had a ball at every turn. The characters even find a hole in the wall and jump from building to building with the exact same camera angle as in the game. Everything was spot on and I was smiling for an hour straight. Again, as in Brotherhood of the Wolf (#95 on my top 100), everything was great looking. I've never been able to explain that film's style, other than I love to look at it. It's ominous, creepy, colorful, beautiful at times and it just sucks you right into the setting. Even the real world scenes in both films are very fantasy-ish looking; even though they're real.
The story is simple, but gets more confusing as it goes along. A little girl sleep walks constantly and mentions a place called Silent Hill while in this state. Her mother decides that the best idea is to find Silent Hill and bring the girl there to see what happens. Bad idea. Silent Hill is not just another sleepy town. It's the host to all sorts of baddies: ghosts, cult members and... other..."creatures." The child gets lost in the town and mother spends the entire film negotiating her way through said baddies in various buildings in an effort to locate her daughter. In the meantime, an unexpected warning siren blares through the town every once in a while and "the darkness" takes over and really nasty beings are lurking everywhere and have only one thing on their mind: kill.
Here's where the story started to fall apart for me: after about an hour, the game similarities stop, and a whole new story begins to take shape. It involves many more characters and locales. It didn't have that same Silent Hill feel anymore. It just became another stupid horror flick. I was so excited to give this movie a huge thumbs up halfway through, then it totally threw me for a loop and I lost a lot of faith.
The acting is actually pretty good. Not in a normal film sort of way, but the way these people portray themselves as video game charcters is extraordinary. Especially Radha Mitchell (from Pitch Black) and Laurie Holden (the cop). They speak and move and even run like a video game character. It borders on funny in some cases. But it just goes to show the amount of dedication the creators had in preserving the feeling of the game; at least for the first half.
So again, if you haven't played the game, just forget this one. You won't get it. And, if you like video games, I recommend playing this game. It is one of the few out there that is actually really well done and fun to play with more than one person. Play it on a stormy night with the lights off; I dare you. Then see the film and everything will just seem to make more sense and be much more enjoyable.
IMDb.com - full cast and crew