Let’s start with the running time for “Silent Hill”: two hours and five minutes.
Totally out of control. No horror movie should be longer than an Oscar winner for best picture unless it’s, like, “The Exorcist.” (“Crash” was just 107 minutes when it came out last year, in case you’re curious.)
It should max out around 83 minutes — 85, tops — especially when it’s not even good enough to be shown to critics before opening day. This makes “Silent Hill” the 12th movie so far this year that wasn’t made available for review ahead of time. But who’s counting?
Having said that, the story of a mother (Radha Mitchell) who brings her sick daughter (Jodelle Ferland) to a West Virginia ghost town with hopes of curing her does have some genuinely frightening imagery. It all seems rather drug-induced, though: paranoid, delusional visions of being covered in enormous, crawling bugs; gnarled, burning children staggering about menacingly; a muscular giant in a dark hood who tries to stab you with an oversized kitchen knife. It’s some pretty disturbing stuff.
But then the movie turns just plain silly as the crotchety townsfolk go on a literal witch hunt for anyone who seems different. Their cries of “Heresy! Burn her!” call to mind a high-school production of “The Crucible.” And the protracted climax features cacophonous organ music, signaling the return of a demon child who rises from the fires of hell to take revenge on her persecutors. Hovering above them, she finds elaborate ways to torture them with razor wire, and the blood sprays in all directions like something you’d see in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
For a while, though, the film from French director Christophe Gans (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”), which he wrote with Roger Avary and Nicolas Boukhrief, is compelling in a nightmarish way; the scares come in flashes, in pieces that initially don’t make sense.
Mitchell’s Rose Da Silva crashes her car on the way to Silent Hill and ends up in what seems like an ash-covered, war-torn version of the abandoned town; it’s almost like a parallel universe. Daughter Sharon has run off, and Rose scurries around trying to find her among the town’s dilapidated buildings. Sharon had been walking in her sleep, screaming about Silent Hill, a place to which she seems to have had some connection before her parents adopted her. Hence the road trip.
Meanwhile, Rose’s husband, Chris (Sean Bean from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), hunts for them in the real Silent Hill, a sun-splashed place where he’s accompanied by a suspicious police detective (Kim Coates). He knows Rose is there somewhere but he keeps missing her, like that episode of “The Twilight Zone” where the little girl goes through a hole in her bedroom wall and ends up in the fourth dimension.
Now that was creepy from start to finish — and it only took a half-hour.