Tag Archive for Silent Hill

Villains, Victims, Venerable Matriarchs: Mamas in Horror

This was originally posted on my Tumblr 10 months ago, Jan 25th, 2013. Mama has been airing on HBO recently, and when it’s playing, I can’t seem to look away even though it continues to irk me. In the absence of my regular recap (next week will be a double-header), have this instead!

"A mother's love is forever." Harrumph.

“A mother’s love is forever.” Harrumph.

Mama, the newest film presented by Guillermo del Toro, took the box office by storm last weekend, probably partly as a result of lead actress Jessica Chastain’s brilliant turn in Zero Dark Thirty. Del Toro’s previous horror-oriented producer credits include The OrphanageSplice, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – interestingly, all centered around variations on the family and the missing or “false” mother. Mama falls into line with the rest, presenting us with two orphaned little girls haunted and fiercely protected by an evil matriarch even as a benevolent (though flawed) mother figure strives to safeguard them.

Perhaps del Toro has a few mommy issues he’d like to work through? If so, he’s not alone; although the horror genre has been both criticized and praised for its ability to subvert societal mores, sometimes it stagnates in one characterization or another. Often enough, horror film flounders around aimlessly, unsure what to do with portrayals of women. Seeing as how, even in 2013, society at large seems to be conflicted about the role of woman and matriarch, this is wholly unsurprising.

Although I enjoyed it, Mama is not without flaws. It punctuates clunky dialogue (“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, doomed to repeat itself” intones an employee at the Clifton Forge, Virginia Hall of Records to a psychiatric doctor – really?) with some genuine, goosebump-inducing scares. We may see a bit too much monster; there is a delicate balance, and though the ghost is well done, the explicitness takes away some of the creepy mystique. Truly spooky imagery (the girls’ animalistic behavior, a sobbing infant moments before its impending death) brings it up to par. Both Annabel (Chastain), a “punk” rocker inspired by Alice Glass, and “Mama,” also known as Mad Edith Brennan, are flawed figures, selfish/selfless women saddled with the daunting task of motherhood.

Mama pitted against mama.

Mama pitted against mama.

In her first scene, Annabel crows happily about a negative pregnancy test – neither she nor her boyfriend Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wants a baby. But when after five years of searching, Luke’s nieces are located, starved and wild, in the dark center of the George Washington National Forest, Annabel reluctantly agrees to take on the role of stepmother. When one of the girls calls her “Mama,” Annabel’s strained expression gives away her discomfort: “Don’t call me that, I’m not your mother,” she exhales before screwing on a smile. When little Lilly, who’s crawled out the window into the cold Virginia night, shows Annabel with a glance how she came to be outside, Annabel mutters a totally convincing oath: “Seriously? You’ve got to be shitting me.” She’s not the ideal mom, but she’s a helluva lot better than the other choice.

The titular Mama, also known as the ghost of Edith Brennan, is a woman who escaped from “a hospital for sad people” in the late 1800s after stealing her baby. In one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes, Annabel experiences Edith’s fate in a dream. The mad woman breaks free from her straightjacket, takes her child, stabs a nun repeatedly, and runs into the woods. When she finds herself on a cliff with a line of good old Virginia gentlemen closing in on her, she leaps, babe in arms, hundreds of feet into a lake. Anything to “save” the child. When little Victoria and Lilly (along with their late father, a madman in his own right) stumble upon Edith’s ghost, it becomes clear Edith will, as ever, do anything to protect the child. Little does she know, she has a venerable enemy in Annabel. Read more

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (10/27/12)

Movie Poster: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Screenplay by Michael J. Bassett

Starring:
Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean

How long is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D? 94 minutes.
What is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D rated? R for violence and disturbing images, some language and brief nudity.

CLR Rating: 0.5/5 stars

Movie still: Silent Hill Revelation 3D

Malcolm McDowell and Adelaide Clemens in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
© 2012 – Open Road Films

A sequel lacking in style, grace, and even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology (and that of the first film). The most baffling thing about this sequel is that it was made at all.

For the last three decades, filmmakers have been busily exploring the connections between video games and film; the myriad styles in which the passive viewer and the active player can intertwine; the ways in which a precise “defeat the boss, level-up” format can elevate (or destroy) a film. The gaming world facepalmed in unison when in 2006, director Christophe Gans released Silent Hill, a vague, startling movie based on the eponymous video game. Full disclosure: I’ve never been a gamer, and Konami’s Silent Hill made me bonkers. I tried playing the first one, and not only was I incapable of using the counter-intuitive control system, but the buzzing controller, ominous scenery, and seriously creepy score left me reasonably frustrated and thoroughly spooked. So of course, when the movie came out, I rushed to the theater – maybe I could enjoy it in a way that’s more natural to me!

Critics ripped apart the first Silent Hill, calling it bewildering, confused, and visually jarring. In 2006, I was deeply into feminist film study in college, and I was (and still am) intrigued by the fact that Roger Avary wrote a screenplay that featured nary a male character. Instead, Silent Hill’s speaking roles were occupied entirely by women and girls. As in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, the first iteration of Silent Hill featured women as villain, victim, and protagonist. They were flawed and maternal, insensitive and loving, and would do anything to save themselves and those they loved. Unfortunately, TriStar was deeply concerned by the lack of males and required Avary to add a guy to the mix. Enter Sean Bean’s Christopher, a grieving father chasing his wife and daughter into another dimension. Kim Coates played a small-town cop trying to protect a dark secret. You know that Facebook friend who inserts an extra question mark and exclamation point into every post because it’s just so very? That’s how the male roles in Silent Hill feel: unnecessary, pointless, and frustrating. Nonetheless, the movie was filled with severely spooky imagery, painstakingly rendered creatures, and a fascinating, essential rape-revenge theme. (Further, the first film was based loosely on the captivating ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, beneath which coal fires have been burning for five decades.)

Since I’m a Silent Hill apologist, when news of the sequel began to circulate early this year, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. The 3D format is immensely frustrating when filmmakers utilize it as a moneymaker – but when it’s done right, 3D can elevate a movie from “stupid” to “stupid-but-awfully-pretty.” The first film was made before modern “three dimensions” were a viable option, but its sweeping zooms into glowing chasms, madly whipping razor wire, and massive villains wielding immense weapons lend to a feeling that Gans and cinematographer Dan Laustsen would have made great use of the technology epitomized by Avatar.

After years in development hell, a new director and writer, Michael J. Bassett, took the reins on Silent Hill: Revelation. It secured a Halloween weekend release date, a hot new TV star (Kit Harington, a.k.a. Game of Thrones’s Jon Snow), veteran actors Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a beautiful young ingénue (Adelaide Clemens, an Australian who looks so like a young Michelle Williams that you will find yourself stunned she isn’t spouting Kevin Williamson’s precocious dialogue). It was, however, unable to secure a coherent plot, decent writing, or the necessary creativity in story and timing to make a good horror movie. While the original Silent Hill is intriguingly bizarre, simplistic but theatrically philosophical, and frustratingly plotted, the sequel is baffling and exasperating in that it ever got made at all.

The final scene of the original depicts Bean’s Christopher sensing, miserably, that his wife and adopted child are near; meanwhile Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) are trapped in another dimension, a purgatory of sorts (one guesses). The three inhabit the same physical space, but not the same metaphysical space. The sequel, in a stupid twist, posits that Rose found some kind of “seal” in the other dimension that allowed her to send Sharon back to ours. So, in the interim between the original and this weekend’s sequel, Christopher and Sharon have run wildly across the country, changing their names and leaving bodies behind. They have repeatedly, by a hair’s breadth, escaped members of the Order of Valtriel, a crew of religious weirdos who want to draw Sharon back to the damned town of Silent Hill, West Virginia, because she’s somehow part of a demon named Alessa. (In the original, Sharon was the product of rape – Alessa’s victimization at the hands of Silent Hill’s inhabitants propels the movie – but the sequel explains that Alessa didn’t give birth to Sharon, but somehow placed part of her soul in the orphan child. Way to ruin what was one of the most intriguing plot points of the first film, you idiots.)

The girl’s savior, another new kid in school named Vincent (Harington) is, to no one’s surprise but Sharon/Heather’s, has actually been dispatched from Silent Hill to bring her back. When the Order somehow kidnap Christopher, Heather/Sharon refuses to heed his note and follows him to purgatory with Vincent in tow. Vincent, of course, has decided that she’s not really evil after all! So he ends up in the hot seat with the Order, including his mother Claudia (Moss) and grandfather Leonard (McDowell) – both of whom are actually demons. Are you confused yet?

Pyramid Head, played in both movies by Roberto Campanella, is apparently no longer a bad guy – he’s Heather/Sharon’s guardian and executioner; further, cinematographer Maxime Alexandre evidently has no idea how to shoot him, resulting in a series of unnecessary close-ups and a failure to communicate his true strength and horror. The Dark Nurses, a horde of faceless, eyeless “naughty nurses” that ring all the interesting woman-as-nurturer/woman-as-villain bells, return, but Bassett has no idea what to do with them, either. Instead of terrifying the characters, the nurses cause the protagonists to enter into a slightly more high-stakes game of Red Light, Green Light.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some new features. There is some kind of mannequin creature, because mannequins are creepy, right? There is also a dark carnival, because clowns and carnivals? Also creepy. Finally, there’s an abandoned asylum, because of course. Inasmuch as the Resident Evil movies utilize the game format of “beat boss, level up,” the Silent Hill movies don’t feature much triumph at all – there’s just a lot of pointless running. At least in the first film, the various creatures and characters were new and well done. There was a shrewd, unsubtle (some might even say shrill) commentary on dogmatic thinking, rape, and female villains. The second film features nothing new, lacks even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology, and is laid out like an increasingly stupid haunted house.

As a defender of the first movie, I am in the minority. However, under no circumstances can I defend spending fifteen of your hard-earned dollars on watching this schlock in 3D – and if the trailers are any evidence, two dimensions won’t do it any favors either. I’ve already expended unnecessary energy trying to figure out its nuances, detail its plot, and explain why you shouldn’t go. TL;DR? Go see Sinister instead. Hell, Netflix The Apparition, which is also terrible. Save yourself the money, confusion, and irritation.