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Mom's the word on baffling `Silent Hill'

April 24, 2006|Jan Stuart | Newsday

Far be it for me to dispense advice to mothers of little girls with vexing mental-health issues. Still, if my kid were sleepwalking her way toward mile-high gorges and drawing violent pictures while babbling about some mysterious ghost town called Silent Hill, then throwing her into a Jeep and driving her there in the dead of night would be about 289th on my list of corrective options.

This is where Rose, the decision-challenged mom played by Radha Mitchell in "Silent Hill," loses me. It is also only about five minutes into the movie, making it harder to work up much sympathy when a motorcycle cop pulls her over a few minutes later, and Rose responds by flooring the pedal and speeding off.

Feeling smugly superior is one of the myriad pleasures offered by this cockamamie horror tale, which works up a decent amount of solid, creep-show atmosphere in its first act before making some absurd decisions of its own in its second.

Based on a video game series of the same name, "Silent Hill" is essentially an obstacle course of fun-house frights hurdled by Rose as she seeks out her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), who has disappeared into the abandoned West Virginia town Rose so ill-advisedly brought her to.

Rose's husband, Christopher (a palpably stiff Sean Bean), is on the trail but essentially useless, in the way that some movie husbands can be.

Rose is not entirely alone on her hunt, however. She is variously hindered and abetted by a frizzy-headed madwoman (Deborah Kara Unger) who has also lost her daughter and the aforementioned cop, a curvaceous vision in black leather named Cybil (Laurie Holden).

The resplendent blond heads of Rose and Cybil beam like beacons in the apocalyptic gray of Silent Hill, a once-thriving coal-mining town where ashes and toxic gases continue to swirl, 30 years after a deadly fire wiped out much of the populace. The women fend off an unrelenting barrage of zombie-like predators and giant cockroaches that come and go, just as unpredictably as they do in New York City.

The visual effects are often quite marvelous (love the gaping corpse in the toilet stall choked in barbed wire), which is why it's unfortunate that director Christopher Gans and writer Roger Avary feel compelled to tie them together with something so banal as a rationale. The explanation for all these oddball doings, when it arrives, is yet another convoluted spin on those old saws, witchcraft and religious fanaticism. Whatever.

"Silent Hill," which purports to be a testament to the ferocity and abiding strength of maternal love, wears its lusting male heart on its sleeve. In addition to the prostitute-chic of Cybil's cop regalia, it also features a phalanx of low-cleavage zombie nurses who slither and slink like Bob Fosse chorines.


MPAA rating: R for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images, and some language

A Sony/TriStar Pictures release. Director Christophe Gans. Screenplay Roger Avary. Producers Samuel Hadida, Don Carmody. Director of photography Dan Laustsen. Editor Sebastien Prangere. Running time: 2 hours.

In general release.

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