Those who love movies and video games in equal measure have had a red circle scrawled around the release date for Silent Hill for quite some time. Sure, there's nothing new about a horror flick based on a popular game series, but not many of those movies come attached to names like Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) and Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction, Killing Zoe). With filmmakers like these on board, the odds of a half-decent movie being produced increase exponentially. And let's give the gamers a break. One can only take so many Dooms and BloodRaynes and Resident Evil: Apocalypses (sue me, I liked the first one) before starting to get a little desperate. So the hopes pinned upon Silent Hill were pretty high, if only those of a small-yet-passionate fanbase.

And then came word that Sony wouldn't be pre-screening the flick for press, which automatically placed Silent Hill in a "sight-unseen" garbage bin, alongside cinematic detritus like When a Stranger Calls, Stay Alive, BloodRayne, and Underworld: Evolution. (A note to Sony and the other studios: I'd quit it with the "no press screenings" approach; the moviegoers are getting wise to this gimmick.) Needless to say, the "press blackout" strategy didn't do a whole hell of a lot to generate excitement among the loyal Hill fans, but ...  
 
Frankly I'm a little surprised that Sony hid Silent Hill from the press because, while it's certainly not an excellent film (and it's really got a little too much fat on its bones), the thing is precisely what the hardcore gamers / gorehounds have been asking for: a video game adaptation that pays respect to its source material while forging just enough new ground to tell a grimly entertaining visual story. Not much more than a "haunted town" thrill-ride, with only a few plot points tossed in to the mix to keep the thing moving, Silent Hill truly is a feast for the eyes -- provided your eyeballs aren't too squeamish.

As the movie opens, Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) is in the act of pursuing her young daughter, an adorable little kid who has the nasty habit of sleepwalking near cliffsides. Thwarting her daughter's unintentional suicide at the last second, Rose hears the kid mutter something about "Silent Hill" before Dad (Sean Bean) comes rushing out to see if everyone's OK.

Next thing we know, Rose and little Sharon are hightailing it across the interstate, single-mindedly intent on visiting a small town named Silent Hill, West Virginia. The fact that Silent Hill is a ghost town, long ago ravaged by a harrowing underground inferno, does little to impede Rose's conviction: There's something wrong with her little girl (whom we quickly learn is adopted) -- and Silent Hill seems to hold the answer.

Despite being a well and truly dead town, Silent Hill does hold a whole lot of ... something, but it sure isn't anything resembling easy answers, group therapy, or a nice little lollipop for the ride home. Not surprisingly, horror fans, Silent Hill is absolutely packed to the rafters with slimy monsters, contorted corpses, chattering hell-bugs, tortured souls, and a few sneaky survivors who just might be more dangerous than the throngs of hell-spawned beasties that shadow Rose's every step. And, with little Sharon now lost somewhere in the deepest depths of Silent Hill's nether-regions, poor mom has to travel through some of hell's most unsanitary rest-stops if she wants to get her daughter back.

Silent Hill is about as deep as the Ghost House that arrives with your local carnival every Spring, but it's presented with such a bleak, dark, and ferocious visual edge that one finds it a bit easier to forgive the flick's narrative shortcomings. Clocking in at an overstuffed two hours, Silent Hill feels more like an "unrated director's cut" than an efficiently streamlined horror thriller. Even I, who actively enjoyed the movie, found myself checking my watch on more than one occasion, simply because when Silent Hill should be picking up some steam ... it takes an extra coffee break to dole out some backstory exposition that A) isn't really all that important, and B) was pretty much covered three scenes earlier. (Another small complaint: Playing Rose's husband, Sean Bean is saddled with a subplot that could be (literally) sliced out of the film and nobody would even notice.)

That's really my one and only (big) problem with Silent Hill: It needed a few extra trips to the editing bay, period. Aside from that, I had a gruesome good time on my visit to the Hill. Radha Mitchell does some excellent work with a difficult role; the background characters are suitably intriguing and/or horrifying; the screenplay, while certainly not Avary's finest work, is appropriately dour and disconcerting; and the look of the movie ... well, it deserves its own paragraph.

I'll not list all the production designers, set decorators, cinematographers, CGI wizards, and gore-wranglers individually -- but let's just say everyone associated with the visual end of Silent Hill earned their paychecks big-time, and then some. At its darkest and gloomiest moments, Silent Hill is a masterpiece of visual ... ickyness. The sets, the design, the monsters and Gans' aggressively fluid camera flourishes all add up to a monster movie unlike any you've seen before. (The plot itself is, of course, nothing new -- but the look of Silent Hill sure as hell is.)

So to answer the question that Silent Hill's target audience has been clinging to for the past few months: Yeah, Silent Hill is probably the finest "video game movie" to hit the screens so far. (Then again, calling a film "better than Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and House of the Dead" is hardly high praise.) The movie seems to come from a group of filmmakers who want to please the game-fans at the same time they treat the horror geeks to something a little gritty, a little grungy, and more than a little gory.

Basically, Silent Hill is probably the best Clive Barker flick that Clive Barker had nothing to do with.