REVIEW: The Wolfman (2010)

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wolfman coverWOLFMAN, the remake with Benicio del Toro, is one of those movies I keep watching in hopes that I’ll like it more. And to be honest, I do like it better than the first viewing, which is often the case for movies I enter into with expectations. There are certain things I want from a werewolf movie, and I’ve thus far been pretty disappointed with most of them.

Perhaps because werewolves don’t really seem to translate well on screen. I think the best I’ve seen so far were from UNDERWORLD, which in itself is a fun and pretty but not very good movie. But the werewolves were ones I believed, and in my opinion they were appropriately bestial and intimidating. In movies I’ve seen where the wolves were just giant wolves (like the TWILIGHT series), they suffer from being noticeably CGI or noticeably puppets. In movies where they’ve been more anthropomorphic and built around a human form, they just aren’t that frightening to look at. I’m not sure what it is. Is it the wet nose? I’m just not sure what it takes to make werewolves frightening to me, so maybe the answer to that is they should stop trying. As werewolf movies go, THE HOWLING is probably best, disjointed though the editing is. It really encapsulates the horror of the transformation and animalistic nature of the beast, and it covers how becoming a werewolf might bleed into the human life.

But I suspect that, despite all the fairly standard sex that seems to fill our screens in R-rated movies, we’re still quite shy about sex, and a person giving into their id just makes our Puritan little hearts nervous. You can’t turn a man into a beast and then cut his balls off and expect us to be intimidated by what he’s become–and more importantly, what’s in all of us. Which is supposed to be the real horror, I suspect: the Beast in us all. But where most books seem happy to detail the daily depravity we’re capable of in werebeast and human form, movies skirt around the worst of it whenever the id has to take shape. I think they worry we’ll be too shocked, I tell you, shocked, and they want a broader audience to make a broader amount of money. But that’s neutering the beast, and it just ends up not working quite the way it should.

THE WOLFMAN is no exception, although the cast is fantastic and the devotion to detail in setting, costume, and atmosphere admirable. The movie is awash in fur coats and stuffed beasts from the elder Talbot’s hunting days. The Blackmoor manor is strewn with leaves and shadows as though the wilderness is slowly taking over its palatial splendor. The palate runs a respectable moorland gray, and the movie isn’t lacking in bright red for the R rating.

But the movie suffers from a lack of identity, although del Toro takes on the Talbot role with the same bushy-browed, soft-featured intensity of Lon Chaney, Jr., in the original that would likely have made him proud. Anthony Hopkins is a delight in every mediocre role he takes. The first few viewings, I was sure he was phoning it in like he did in THE RITE, but subsequent viewings give me a chance to take in his more subtle choices. He latches onto every line with a sometimes quiet and sometimes growling ferocity. He commands every scene he’s in, which is why the man is an international treasure, despite the less than adequate meat in this movie to chew off the bone.

Emily Blunt, I believe, is the actor most ill used by a movie that doesn’t know whether it wants to be tragedy or horror. (WOLFMAN mostly goes with tragedy with bloody dashes of horror, but the joke’s on them, because good horror makes tragedy all the more intense.) Blunt is too good for the role, put into the movie as a shining beacon of perfect Victorian femininity, a bastion of purity that no beast should sully, a love more romantic from afar, an ideal rather than a woman. It’s disgusting in such a male-heavy movie to make the only woman such a representation of an abstract. Ideals are all well and good, but what people in a society ever really live up to them, especially in private? We wouldn’t need such strict rules and chaperones if people weren’t trying to break those rules at every turn.

At the beginning, Talbot calls a man’s character “a shiftable thing,” a statement clearly intended for the dramatic irony, but the sheer fact of the matter is that THE WOLFMAN doesn’t work because Talbot’s character doesn’t shift enough. It barely seems challenged by new appetites. He’s briefly distracted by Blunt’s bare neck (honestly, who wouldn’t be?), and dreams about a naked back. So salty. So animalistic. So…tame. Talbot mostly remains the mild-mannered man except when he is beast, when the point is supposed to be that Edward Hyde is Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll/Hyde stories tend to do werewolf better than werewolf movies – the Spencer Tracy version is superb and is one of the movies to better show Hyde’s glee, but it really plays up the good vs. evil that isn’t what the original story set out to tell. Instead, for an excellent werewolf tale, I actually recommend Jekyll/Hyde movie MARY REILLY with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich, which is a criminally underrated movie, if not necessarily a masterpiece (really, if you ignore the bad accents, it’s quite good). Like Bruce Banner said, he’s the Hulk because he’s always angry.

If the beast doesn’t exact the worst impulses of the man and if the man doesn’t exhibit the worst impulses of the beast, what’s the point of a werewolf movie? What the point of the blood and drama and confusion? If the presence of a werewolf doesn’t strip away the patina of respectability of all around him, you’ve missed the point.

I’m not saying I needed a Talbot/Conliffe sex scene to satisfy my own worst impulses (although I wouldn’t say no). But Talbot shows early nods to resentments, a festering anger from his childhood against the town, against his father, and a desire for his brother’s fiancee, none of which I feel come to a head in any real way once the transformation occurs. Was he supposed to seem virtuous for retaining his self-control? Is it to contrast with his father, who is, in his own words, more comfortable in the skin he is in, while Lawrence makes a living pretending to be other people? We get the glimpse of the wicked in Lawrence’s father, his willingness to allow himself to feel his baser nature rather than repress it, although he still retains some self-control while a man.

I just wish there was some transformation on the character level for Talbot to parallel the transformation on a supernatural level, that he didn’t only give in to the beast when the moon was full, that it infected his personal life in more interesting ways. Instead of the beast being an extension of him made manifest, it remains distant, the actions that of an animal rather than an id. I don’t think he would have seemed less tragic for the loss of control of his impulses–after all, he didn’t choose to be bitten, to have to fight harder against those impulses. He was paying for the sins of the father, which is never fair. Del Toro is perfectly capable of treading that line. In the one moment where the beast threatens to overtake Talbot in the presence of Conliffe, though he doesn’t do much, he’s frightening and alluring at the same time, wonderfully intimidating, and Blunt plays off that with a quintessentially Victorian response belied by the scared intrigue in her eyes. That moment is the closest I have to what I want from their dynamic, and it’s delicious. But it pulls away too quickly and never again treads near the same level of tension between man/woman and the beast in both, though brought to shallower waters in the man.

More than anything, the restraint shown by the script and the direction seems more a product of the idealization of the love interest, the sole female presence in the film–although the ghost of Talbot’s mother seems to hover over everything. As though a woman’s own red tides of anger, frustration, fear, grief, and lust would somehow mar her if it cracked her pretty portrait of a face. Moreover, I believe there’s a genuine fear underneath most werewolf movies of the beast that exists within women as well. Not just the female villains (most masculinized or hypersexualized or both into unrecognizability of what women experience every day). Not just the disposable, nameless, dehumanized prostitutes that we keep killing off like so many victims of so many Jack the Rippers. The Beast in us all.

I’ve seen one movie that didn’t seem afraid of freed, unfettered female sexuality. The remake of DRACULA (also with Hopkins, in a role he seemed to have much more fun in) may have just been Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish wet dream for most of it, but it’s one of the few movies I know of that seem to unapologetically acknowledge women’s lust in supernatural situations. Yes, much of it is downright shocking for this generations-removed Puritan, but quite refreshing as well when set against a slew of horror movies that are unapologetic in the amount of boobs they show yet somehow afraid of a woman actually enjoying herself in the midst of a fairly rigid social expectation that they don’t. If that’s the excuse why they kept Miss Conliffe the Victorian ideal, I’m pretty sure Lucy Westenra spits on that. If the point of werewolves is that there’s a beast in us all, the refusal to believe there’s a beast in Miss Conliffe seems the worst kind of oversight. It may have been unintentional, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

If THE WOLFMAN is soft on sex, it certainly isn’t on violence, which is one of the movie’s only saving graces, although I would have preferred more substance and less flash to the chase scene in London. CGI is supposed to be a friend, not a lover, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as studios depend it will. But I have to say, the level of detail applied to the transformation scenes was professional as hell and believable, even if the final product loses some of that believability they put into the shifting. Still, the werewolf’s attacks are vicious, merciless, that of an angry mother grizzly, and it’s pretty spectacular as it’s happening.

But in the places between the transformations, the movie just seems unsure what it wants to do and where it wants to go. It’s the movie version of telling rather than showing, and though I’m inexcusably fond of asylum horror, THE WOLFMAN doesn’t linger there long enough for me to care as much as I want to about the hubris of doctors. It brings to mind DRACULA again (see Jack Seward’s asylum). WOLFMAN fails in almost every comparison with its classic Universal monster movie counterpart, even that of the beasts that the eponymous monsters become. The only place where it seems to shine more than DRACULA is in the sets and the cinematography, which is more a product of when the movies were made than a failing on Coppola’s part in his DRACULA.

It’s really a shame, because I want to like this movie, and like THE LAZARUS EFFECT, I think I keep watching it for the movie it could have been. It’s occasionally a decent script, and del Toro, Hopkins, Blunt, and a somewhat typecast but still devoted Hugo Weaving make the best of where the script weakens.

I just have Thoughts about what werewolves are in the pantheon of horror monsters, and I feel like the movie makers really missed the boat on this one, as they usually do with this particular monster. Almost as though they’re afraid to look into a mirror and really see themselves. They tend to do well with vampires, but with vampires, they don’t have to see their reflections.

A Night Witch’s Eve

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black metal balustrade with string lights

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I’m actually quite happy with this one. I don’t do simple very well (all of you know I’m a wordy mf’er), but when it happens, I’m pleased with how clean it can be.

The musical style should be somewhat close to “Silent Night,” but with more of a minor key, and actually meant for a soprano sound, the classical diva you might sometimes have in a symphonic metal song. Merry Christmas Eve, all!

A NIGHT WITCH’S EVE

Silent night
Silent cold
Everyone’s sleeping
The season grows old

Silent night
Silent snow
Concealing the traces
Where night witches go

Silent night
Silent dreams
Awake and aware
Through sobs and through screams

The midnight is anything but holy
Magic pierces the sky too bright and too boldly

Silent night
Silent sighs
We place silver coins
In everyone’s eyes

Silent night
Silent snow
Concealing the traces
Where night witches go

A Merry Texas Christmas

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I wanted to share this earlier in the week, but in addition to being busy, the darn song just wasn’t ready. There was a whole verse that had a rhyme scheme that didn’t match the rest, so I needed to play around with it. I don’t need finished products when sharing lyrics I’ve written, but I like it to feel like it could be finished.

As you might imagine, “A Merry Texas Christmas” should have a bit of a country twang, but not too much, because not all of us have a strong accent. I do only some of the time, and it’s usually a choice rather than my default. Although ‘y’all’ is kind of a given.

A MERRY TEXAS CHRISTMAS

I can count on one hand having snow on Christmas.
Even being cold is a coin toss to lose
If I’m not cold and snug Christmas morning
I have to confess, that’s not the Christmas I choose.

Chorus:
They set up the lights before November is gone
Advent wreaths burn candles down into one
Everyone wishes for snow, then wishes for sun
And that’s a Merry Texas Christmas.

Santa wears cowboy boots to deliver our toys.
We drink our hot chocolate then bring out the egg nog
Armadillos and cacti with penguins and wintery joys.
And the Christ candle burns instead of a Yule log.

Tamales and chili, dinner Christmas Eve,
And pecan and pumpkin for Christmas Day pies.
We turn on the fire and crank the A/C
Everyone knows when it’s Christmas, everyone lies.

It’s part of the magic
The magic of Christmas
The magic of a Texas Christmastime, y’all.

Chorus:
Light shows draw crowds into neighborhood streets.
For once the huge churches fill all of their seats.
We pray for our peace and we do our good deeds.
And that’s a Merry Texas Christmas.

We scream Merry Christmas so everyone hears it.
We forget why we do it, like everyone else.
We fight over words and holiday spirit.
But in the end, we do it like nobody else.

I’ve only ever known a Texas State Christmas.
Our star of wonder is often the star on our flag.
For many long years, a Texas State Christmas,
Yet as years have gone by, I often feel sad.

Chorus:
But the lights fill the streets when the evenings are long.
Both radio and churches swell with Christmas-y songs.
Everything’s right even when everything’s wrong.
And that’s a Merry Texas Christmas.

Cats Don’t Care About Christmas

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adorable animal cat celebration

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This next song arose from an offhand comment from my dad while I was talking with him last year about not really getting in the spirit of Christmas anymore, yet writing Christmas songs anyway. He followed it up with, “Hey, that would make a great Christmas song, wouldn’t it?” I wrote it in my head all the way home from dinner that night.

It’s silly af, but cat lovers should have some fun with it.

CATS DON’T CARE ABOUT CHRISTMAS

Cats don’t care about Christmas
They yowl and meow asking where their food is
They don’t know what time of year it is
Oh, cats don’t care about Christmas.

They sleep in our mangers and hang in our stockings
They don’t want the presents, they just want the boxes
They bat at the ornaments and chew on our bows
And why they kill Christmas trees, nobody knows.

Cats don’t care about Christmas
They hide and decide that they don’t need us
They hate and tolerate the costumes and kisses
Oh, cats don’t care about Christmas.

They throw up on tree skirts and pee in the guest rooms
They run for no reason from bedroom to bedroom
They climb onto our laps when we’re warm and we’re lazy
But while we try to make everything perfect, they’re crazy.

They shake off the jingle bells and won’t pose for pictures
They won’t pay attention to stories or scriptures
We hide all the tinsel. We can’t keep poinsettias.
We want so much to love them, and sometimes they let us.

Cats don’t care about Christmas
They purr and prowl, kill us with false sweetness
Pretend they’re the angel atop the tree to deceive us
Oh, cats don’t care about Christmas.

Missing Christmas

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I don’t have seasonal affective disorder. I actually experience the reverse, my mood becoming measurably better when it’s darker and colder outside and worse when it gets warm and bright.

But something happens to Christmas as you grow up, and it’s something that made the holidays difficult for roughly the last ten years. Both the spiritual and the secular sides suffered. In fact, it’s only just this year that I kind of got back into the spirit. I put up most of the Christmas decorations at home. At work, I’m decorating my cubicle in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, which was a spontaneous decision that I’m really enjoying. I’m a Halloween-all-year kind of girl, so it fits my personality.

Christmas music is the one thing that’s been a constant through the ennui. With music on my mind, I wrote down a lot of these feelings about Christmas that people just don’t seem to talk about, especially when it comes to singletons and people who aren’t churchgoers. Sure, sometimes I feel like the Grinch (don’t most of us grow up into the Grinch?), but really, I’m more sad than angry. However, I think letting go of what Christmas used to be has helped me enjoy it in my new ways.

MISSING CHRISTMAS

As a child, I saw Santa through the open bedroom door
Sick with excitement at what morning had in store
I saw in him in the darkness, which fueled my belief
Of magical reindeer who come when you sleep

Half-eaten carrots and hoofprints on snow
Once you spot the lies they only start to grow
When magic becomes just another sleight of hand
One starts to wonder where Christmas should stand

The stories repeat so often, I know them by heart.
Growing up without children, I’ve no longer a part
Meaningless, meaning less every year
And now Christmas seems like every other part of the year, I fear…

The moment I stopped looking for Christmas
Was the same time the magic died
Its epitaph written in my attic-lost tree
I mourn for the death of a magical time

I love buying gifts for my family and friends
Receiving doesn’t matter much after it ends
The truth is I lost Christmas a long time ago.
I’ve struggled to find it again, but I know…

That feasts, friends, and families simply don’t
Make the time any more magical, the season just won’t
Reach as far inside of me as it did once before
When magic and miracles brought hope to my door

Half-eaten carrots and hoofprints on snow
Once you spot the lies they only start to grow
When magic becomes just another sleight of hand
One starts to wonder where Christmas should stand.

A ‘Christmas’ Song

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abstract blur branch christmas

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Last December, I thoroughly amused myself by writing Christmas songs, my first forays into lyric-writing and the inspiration behind this year’s push. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad, some more atmospheric than substantive.

Or in the case of “A ‘Christmas’ Song,” thoroughly ironic.

A ‘CHRISTMAS’ SONG

This is a Christmas song.
You can tell because of the word ‘Christmas’
I could avoid the word the whole song long
As long as I use the word ‘Christmas’ just once
As long as I use the word ‘Christmas’ just once

Even if I didn’t say ‘Christmas’ once
Radios would find a way to still play
A Christmas song, as long as winter is mentioned
So I pander to the Christmas pandemonium
And write a new Christmas song
And write a new Christmas song

These days, do I even mention winter at all
When all I need is a cold dark night and twinkling lights?

Do I bring up the feasts, the families, the weather
Or whether everyone’s going to make it home?
Should I bring up Krampus or Santa Claus,
Bright red noses, or roofs where reindeer pause?

I could bring up Jesus, the reason for the season,
Or axial tilt, the real reason for the season,
Solstice, Saturnalia, pagan trees and wreaths,
Make another Chanukah song. Any other beliefs?

It’s a Christmas song because I say it is.
It’s a Christmas song because I wrote it is.
As long as I use the word ‘Christmas’ just once.
As long as I use the word ‘Christmas’ just once.

 

THORNS now available!

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Thorns E CoverIt’s finally here! The first book in the series, THORNS, has been made available across the board.

To love a rose, you must also love its thorns. THORNS invites you down the twisted paths of classic fairy tales, myths, and legends into dark forests, urban jungles, otherworlds, underworlds, and your very own rose-red hearts.

Kindle e-book
Trade paperback
Universal link to all other vendors

When eccentric artist Olivia Rowe returns to the Castle to fulfill a childhood promise to its mysterious owner, Griffin, an assassination attempt against him catapults her into a world of hunters, witches, and enchantments—where fairy tales are real but happily-ever-afters are far from guaranteed.

With a rogue hunter hot on their heels, they must journey between the modern world and the last remaining magical enclaves to rescue Snow White, the Sleeping Kingdom, and Griffin himself from Bluebeard, a powerful sorcerer on a life-stealing spree to achieve immortality.

Voice

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abstract black and white blur book

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I pick up a book and read the first lines.
I listen to new music all the time.
And I think, I want to sound like that.
Why can’t my cords vibrate like that?
Why can’t my brain string words like that?
Why can’t I be louder, lovelier, stronger, better, best?
Why am I trapped sounding like this?

I wish I could sound like them, but I can’t.
Because I’m not them.
My voice is my voice,
And imitation only gets so far.
Always pale and weak,
Nowhere near where they are.

My voice is my own.
And maybe someday someone will say,
I wish I could sound like you.
But they can’t.
Because my voice is my own,
And there will never be another one like it.
Like it or not, my voice is my own.

The Rose Less Taken

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nature red love romantic

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I’ve been very busy with NaNoWriMo and the publication of Thorns was delayed, but it looks like it should be a go here within a week at most. I have a collection of Christmas songs that got this whole lyric-writing thing started, but I don’t want to start those until after Thanksgiving.

With Thorns coming out soon, I thought I’d share a song I wrote that was (very loosely) inspired by it. It’s got some themes connected to the series, but it’s not spoilerific, because it’s inspired by rather than based on.

It’s definitely got a darker rock edge to what was originally meant to be a pop sound. I’d put it in a pretty little minor key.

THE ROSE LESS TAKEN

She illuminates the room with crimson blue light
Fills up the spaces in everyone’s sight
For every step she takes, they all walk a mile
Velvet on her lips and thorns in her smile.

She is the eye in the center of the storm
The thickest of hides always gets torn
Making them wonder if she is the one
Love potion on her skin and poison in her tongue.

Chorus:
A rainbow in the gray
A slither out of sight
Woman by day
Temptation by night
I know that I shouldn’t
But I never say no
Wherever she takes me
I know that I’ll go
All she does is smile
And she leaves me broken
I’ll sink in her thorns
She’s the rose less taken.

Heaven knows she sends to me to hell
She was the very last angel who fell
She seems like honey, but you suffer her sting
And worship her for the pain that she brings.

Bridge:
She’s the vampire they cling to
The doll they desire
They pour gasoline
She sets them on fire
I’m only one of the beasts that she tames
She does what she does
And I’m the only one to blame.

Chorus

REVIEW: Silent Hill

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Silent_Hill_film_poster[Warning: Here there be spoilers]

I agonized over what movie I would review for Halloween. I wanted it to be one of my favorites, one I really liked. The Descent? A 1408/Oculus double feature (because yes, they go together)? American Mary? Candyman? I ultimately decided on Silent Hill, one of the first movies I saw during my freshman year of college, when I started watching R-rated horror and really got on the horror train. (Yes, I waited until I was seventeen. Yes, I am that person.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m prone to really like my early introductions to things, because that’s before I get jaded. But despite the fact it’s not a perfect film, Silent Hill was surprisingly good, especially for a video game to movie adaptation. Although from what I hear, if you’re going to do a VG2M horror adaptation, Silent Hill is the one to go to. I’ve never played the games myself. I’m too prone to habitual behavior for me to trust myself around video games. So I don’t have any expectations of someone who’s played the game, but the movie pushes so many of my personal buttons. It wasn’t a critical darling, and I can tell why. It’s monster-dense, melodramatic, and as stories go, not very original. But for me it’s less about originality (although that’s nice, too) and more about execution. It may be derivative, but is it a good story? Am I entertained for the night? Am I satisfied? Can I watch it over and over and over again and never get tired of it? Silent Hill is one of those films for me.

This is as much a contemplative retrospective as it is a review. Okay, it’s just me rewatching the movie and geeking out. Bear with me.

One of the most wonderful things about this movie is that the cast was originally so woman-heavy, they had to give Sean Bean a somewhat extraneous side plot just to make men feel included. And it’s one of those rare Sean Bean roles in which he doesn’t die, so… But the movie is a powerhouse of female roles with actresses known for genre films. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Despite being a generally misogynistic genre, horror also historically has these huge, powerful roles for women, especially with the Final Girl trope. But Silent Hill and The Descent, both movies with a majority female cast, are both in my top ten list of favorite movies, with layered, nuanced characters and all different kinds of strength. What’s more, while many of these women are sexy and beautiful, because Hollywood, the movies and their strength don’t derive from those qualities. Or rather, to me, the sexiness comes from the fact their strength isn’t from sex but from character and determination, if that makes sense.

We begin with Radha Mitchell, who is a wonderful, solid leading lady. One of the things you might keep an eye on in subsequent viewings is how her main outfit changes over the course of the movie. It’s supposed to be the same outfit, but the colors subtly change from scene to scene to fit the hue and mood and transitions during the movie. Props to the costume department for coming up with so many forms of the same outfit and making it feel seamless. (Another trivia side note, this is supposed to take place in West Virginia, but it was shot in Canada, which means a certain percentage of the cast needs to be local, so there are all these Canadian accents here and there. It’s a little hilarious, especially when the script has more regional dialogue.)

Mitchell’s character, Rose, and Bean’s character, Christopher, are searching for their daughter Sharon, who’s sleepwalked far from home, screaming “Silent Hill!” when they try to wake her up. This prompts Rose’s research into her adoptive daughter’s origin in the ghost town Silent Hill–a former coal town rendered uninhabitable by a fire–and her plan to secretly take Sharon to Silent Hill to see why she has these terrible night terrors and somnambulism episodes.

Seems like a wonderful plan.

Sharon is played by at-the-time child actress Jodelle Ferland, who’d already dipped her toes into horror by the time she did something as mainstream and big budget as Silent Hill. She was around ten or eleven during filming, and she was still a small girl, but some of her lines suggest that she was supposed to be playing younger, and it doesn’t always land well, maybe because she’s using a little girl voice in her higher register to contrast with the lower Alessa voice. She’s a convincing kid, but there’s a maturity to her that doesn’t really fit the age I felt she was playing. It works when she’s Alessa but not always as Sharon. Still, there’s a reason this girl keeps playing the devil. She’s very good at old-young, which is part of the reason she’s one of the inspirations behind my Snow White character, though she’d now be too old for the role. Nevertheless, her work in Silent Hill has led to me watching her career, and I’m rooting for her as she transitions into adult roles.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One semi-abduction, police car chase, and car crash later, Rose wakes up on the edge of Silent Hill, surrounded by dense fog and ash floating from the sky like snow. Since I’m not familiar with the games, a lot of these atmospheric elements are new to me, and extremely effective. It’s a beautiful, muted visual. I’m a sucker for pretty horror, and Silent Hill has a lot of pretty and ugly-pretty horror for my needy little eyes. Among all the ash, Sharon is nowhere to be found, thus beginning the scavenger hunt portion of the movie.

I’m being flippant, but it’s actually a good conflict–mother seeking daughter and willing to do anything to find her and keep her safe–and that conflict plus a lot of what follows pays plenty of homage to the video games without feeling too much like one. Finding what’s lost is a classic video game device, and it works just as well in more linear storytelling. It’s basically an ‘into the woods’ quest, with all kinds of monsters and allies along the way.

Once in Silent Hill, Rose quickly discovers that this town is not normal. In Ash Mode, it’s just haunting, unsettling. But Rose follows what she thinks is Sharon into a warehouse. That’s when the emergency siren goes off, and the Ash world flakes away to reveal a hellish interior. It’s a pretty, darn good effect, and I’m not usually a fan of CGI. In Hell Mode (or Rust Mode), that’s when the monsters really come out to play. In the warehouse, it’s the Gray Children, which look like misshapen burning babies. Here’s where the CGI loses it a bit for me. People should be people whenever possible, because anything less than the best motion capture doesn’t move like living things actually move. In the special features of the DVD, I watched the green screen where a small female contortionist donned her Gray Child costume and moved around in it, and that’s honestly creepier for me. Upon another viewing, I think it’s because the proportion of the Gray Children to Rose keeps changing, which jars me out of the suspension of disbelief. However, the Gray Child was my least favorite CGI monster in the movie. All the others are better.

(When the Gray Children scene ends with everything flaking back into Ash Mode, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” plays on a jukebox in the bowling alley. Everyone in the original theater laughed; good release of tension, and the only funny bit in the movie.)

After the more neutral Ash Mode (I’m sure there’s an actual name for these modes in the video game, but I don’t want to look them up at the moment) returns, Rose runs into Dahlia, a Miss Havisham-meets-Cassandra type character in the movies, although I understand she’s more of an antagonist in the games. Here, she’s the sorrowful mother, a broken woman heavy with cobwebs, dust, and regret, played by the gently altoed Deborah Kara Unger. She chews the scenery in a wonderfully maudlin way and gives us the first bit of exposition about Alessa, the child that was taken from her. When Rose shows her a locket with Sharon’s picture, Dahlia becomes agitated and insists it’s Alessa, her own child.

As Rose continues to look for Sharon and for a way out of Silent Hill, which seems completely cut off from the rest of the world–literally, with the streets out of town broken away and nothing but an abyss on every side–she runs into the cop that chased her into the town, Sybil Bennett, played by genre royalty Laurie Holden.

From what I can tell, people either love her or find her annoying. Silent Hill was my first introduction to her, and I won’t lie. When she first pulled off her helmet and started shooting at the Armless Man (much creepier than the Gray Child), I developed a serious crush on this woman, hardass cop notwithstanding. Sure, it seems ridiculous to us for Cybil to handcuff Rose with everything that’s happening, but as far as Cybil knows, she’s followed a parent kidnapper into Silent Hill, and it wouldn’t be the first (which is a nod to one of the games, apparently).

At this point, the Sean Bean side plot makes it perfectly clear that the ashy Silent Hill isn’t just cut off, it’s a completely different dimension existing parallel to the real Silent Hill, where it’s pouring down rain and police are searching for Rose, Sharon, and Cybil. Through the inspector on the case, we’re given a little more exposition about what happened to Alessa and to the town. But on their side, it’s just a normal ghost town–singed, smoky, dangerous due to the coal fires still burning and sending fumes up to the surface, but otherwise normal. When Rose is at her most distressed, Christopher senses her, which leads to a so-close-yet-so-far moment that I think played pretty well. Extraneous though it may be, I feel like the side plot does provide a much-needed atmosphere respite from the fantasy-horror Silent Hill world. The doses of reality offer enough of a contrast that the hellscape seems all the more hellish.

Rose follows the clues left behind for her by the child she keeps thinking is Sharon running away from her, all the way to a school marked by a curious-looking cross. Inside, there’s evidence that Alessa was decried as a witch even by the children and that something obscene happened to her by a janitor named Colin, given what this hell universe tends to do to the people who hurt her. Colin is dead, wrapped and contorted with barbed wire, and in his mouth is something Rose needed to find, a hotel key. But before Rose can leave, she discovers men in coal miner gear outside the bathroom. Their canary goes crazy right before the emergency siren goes off and Hell Mode returns, bringing Colin’s dead, desecrated body to life.

This is one of those cases where practical effects really paid off, and it’s no wonder that the same man who plays Colin is also the one who played Pyramid Head. He does amazing pantomime work, conveying so much with body language in roles where he doesn’t speak. Just as Pyramid Head is a pretty undeniable symbol of uniquely male violence (noticeable especially within a majority female cast), his Colin is a tortured obscenity. The artistry in his dual performances is a pleasure to watch.

With the cockroach-like Creepers and Pyramid Head after her in the rusty, bloody hellscape, Rose finally meets up with Cybil again, who can’t deny there’s something rotten in the state of Silent Hill. As soon as Ash Mode returns and most of the monster danger is gone, they continue following the clues the girl who looks like Sharon left behind, all the way to a hotel. The music they use on their way reminds me that I love the soundtrack of the movie, which borrows themes from a number of the games. It’s a great industrial sound that translates well to the movie.

At the hotel, we finally get a good look at Alessa, who’s the spitting image of Sharon except for the dark hair and school uniform. And we meet one of the first fundamentalists left over from the fire. They’re a sect off of Christianity, with theology built around witch-burning and maintaining purity in the community. In the case of Anna and most of the other members of the congregation, this is where the story tends to turn overwrought and overly simplistic. The only grounding influence is the cult leader Christabella, played by the wonderfully hypnotic Alice Krige, another member of genre royalty. Have I mentioned how stellar this cast is?

And how unique is it that this fundamentalist cult is run by a soft-spoken, steely woman instead of a charismatic man? What could have turned into something laughable is given a more solid foundation by Christabella, who is clearly a true believer of her own religion (also unusual in cult movies, where the man is clearly a con using his charisma to gain power and respect). She may be an antagonist and an evil person, but I respect true believers more than cons, and she has no reason to believe she’s wrong–after all, their people have remained safe, and the church remains a refuge from the darkness whenever Hell Mode settles over the town.

This fact alone raises a number of questions for me that are never answered. It’s clear that if Alessa hadn’t been burned as a witch, Silent Hill would never have been sucked into a hellscape by the demon that Alessa accepted inside of her, so Christabella is clearly the author of her own people’s destruction. But it’s curious that people portrayed as evil, as those who have twisted faith into something ugly and vicious, can still keep the demon at bay in their church. It’s curious that the church is still a sanctuary from the darkness. Demon!Alessa calls it ‘blind conviction’ that keeps her from entering, but is it really? Or does their ugly faith come with enough good intentions that it affords them some protection? Why would a demon not be able to enter everywhere in her own hell? Is their illusion of protection as much a part of the hellscape as their illusion of righteousness? They certainly don’t seem to be happy with either.

So many questions unanswered, but I’m not one to think that something a plot hole just because it doesn’t have an answer. I’d like to think that things are more complicated than good and evil, even in heaven and hell.

Once in the church, Rose and Cybil are questioned by Christabella, but despite some reservations and suspicion on both sides, Christabella agrees to take them to where the demon waits and might have answers about how to find Sharon. However, when Christabella discovers that Sharon looks like Alessa, she tries to stop the two women. Cybil sacrifices herself to the fanatics to let Rose continue down into the center of the hellscape, where we encounter the sexiest of the monsters, the iconic Dark Nurses. This is one of the places where the movie feels more like a video game, but it doesn’t suffer from comparison. Instead, it helps build the tension, and the fact that all the nurses are made-up people really helps bring the realism to the moment that too much CGI would have destroyed.

Then we enter the realm of pure exposition where we learn the full story behind Alessa, Sharon, and what happened to Silent Hill. We still have questions: Why does the inspector look the same thirty years ago as today? Who’s Alessa’s father? Why was some of Silent Hill sucked into hell and not everyone? How much of what the demon says can we believe? And again, why can’t the demon enter the church without being brought in? What caused Silent Hill to become a ghost town–the fire that burned Alessa or the demon sucking most of Silent Hill down into its hell? Because I originally thought it was the fire, but Alessa was put into a Silent Hill hospital. Ghost towns don’t happen overnight, but if the fire caused the coal mines to burn, one would think it would have been pretty quick. Maybe these answers were lost in editing. They’re ultimately irrelevant to the story, but curious minds still want to know.

The story reaches the climax back at the church, where the fundamentalists–miserable, judgmental murderers that they are–receive what seems like just deserts. The only quibble I have is Christabella’s fate, which seems gratuitously sexual to me. Don’t get me wrong, the whole movie is graphically violent, sometimes beautifully so. Brutal beatings, a woman skinned alive, torture totems, the burning of Alessa and Cybil, the Dark Nurses… I just felt that Christabella’s fate could have been more poetry and less rape. Please.

The weakest parts of even good horror movies tend to fall at the end. Sometimes I like Silent Hill‘s ending and sometimes I don’t. Ambiguity is a horror movie maker’s friend, but it often leads to a frustrated audience. Then again, a solid, safe ending can hit a supernatural rather than a horror note, which can be a bit jarring, and a dark ending can be kind of despairing. It’s really difficult for horror movies to win.

TL;DR: Silent Hill is a badass, female-dominated, visually horrific and stunning movie–far from a masterpiece, but in my opinion, a solid offering and one I don’t mind rewatching on the regular. The sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation, is a hot mess. I enjoy it and it has some good moments, but it’s a mess. I feel like a good Silent Hill sequel could be made, but I doubt it ever will. The original manages to stand strong, strange, and horrifying all on its own.