Silent Hill: Straight from the Set

Silent Hill: Straight from the Set
Interviews with director Christophe Gans, and stars Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden and Deborah Kara Unger.
Updated: 02-22-2006

Radha Mitchell is in the basement of an abandoned hospital. She is all bloody. She has a huge flashlight, but she can't use it for fear of alerting the dangerous denizens of the Darkness. Sexy but spooky creatures clutching scalpels, drills, and other surgical instruments surround her. She cannot move, even as the undead nurses freeze-and-dance around her like broken dolls in an eerie danse macabre without music.


It's sultry. It's surreal. It's Scene #138J from Silent Hill. was there on the set on July 18, 2005 in Toronto, Canada, during one of the most-anticipated scenes of Christophe Gans' (Brotherhood of the Wolf) latest horror movie. Even though the film is based on a video game, it's one of the more intriguing adaptations, considering the game itself calls upon imagery from so many modern-classic psychological horror films.


"I think that Silent Hill is such a beautiful creation that it exists by itself and without any obvious references," says Gans, pausing between takes in the stifling hot soundstage. "I don't think that you will find any obvious reference in this film from Jacob's Ladder or David Lynch films."


Most of the cast, while not genre staples, are hardly strangers to horror. Radha Mitchell, who plays Rose, the mother searching for her lost daughter in the haunted town of Silent Hill, has starred in several dark thrillers including Pitch Black, When Strangers Appear, and Visitors. Eleven-year-old Jodelle Ferland, who plays the missing Sharon, played the young Carrie in the TV movie, was in the Dead Like Me pilot, and played a ghost in Kingdom Hospital.


"The film is about motherhood," says Gans, "about being a mother and being a daughter. I had that feeling after I played through the four games of Silent Hill, it’s entirely about that. One of my decisions when I had to adapt Silent Hill, was to insist on that idea, on the theme of motherhood. Let’s see what the fans will think about that!" he laughs.


Mitchell couldn't be happier with her young costar, who, that day, was quite shy and reticent to speak to reporters. "It’s amazing working with Jodelle because she has a sort of adult concentration and patience and yet, obviously, the charming innocence of a little girl. So it’s been fun playing her mom."


In case you're wondering how the mother and daughter end up in such a desolate, inhospitable hospital, it stems from Rose's desperation to find a cure for her child's devastating illness. Unable to accept the diagnosis that Sharon should be permanently institutionalized for psychiatric reasons, Rose ignores the protests of her husband (Sean Bean) and flees with her daughter, heading for Silent Hill in search of answers.


It soon becomes clear the place is hardly a haven. It's smothered by fog, inhabited by a variety of strange beings and periodically overcome by a living Darkness that literally transforms everything it touches. Mother and daughter become separated. As Rose searches for her little girl, she begins to learn the history of the strange town and realizes that her daughter is just a pawn in a larger game.


Other characters include Cybil Bennet (Laurie Holden), a cop, and the soft-spoken mystery woman, Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kara Unger). "It’s almost entirely female characters," says Gans. "It’s difficult to explain but when you see the film, you will know exactly what I mean. I had to explain to myself some of the elements of the game and I suddenly realized it was not only me, but Roger Avary and the other writer, Nicolas Boukhrief, that actually we were dealing with a completely feminine world. We decided to create a feminine dimension of Silent Hill. It’s difficult to explain, not revealing what happens, but Silent Hill is very feminine."


While Mitchell is gooey with blood and dust, her costars are clean and comfy in the their regular street clothes. Holden is wearing a tank top with jeans and a bright turquoise necklace. Her once-beautiful blonde locks are cut butch-short and dyed almost white. She chuckles at the memory of finding out that she'd have to undergo a shearing for the role of Cybil. Gans told her, "You'll look like a white wolf," to convince her.


"Cybil is a woman who grew up in a small town outside of Silent Hill," says Holden of her character. "She’s a bit of a lone wolf, in the sense that her mom died when she was thirteen and there was never really a father around. It was a very religious community, where she grew up, so I think that because her mother was such a woman of faith and she passed away in a really painful way, it really scarred Cybil. And she's kind of denounced any sort of religion just because of what happened to her mom.


"Because of that, I think that she’s been a bit of an outsider, doesn’t have a lot of friends. But that’s okay for Cybil, because she’s found her calling and that is to serve and protect. And, really, she wants to save children."


The center-point of Cybil may have been found with the snip of a scissor, but Uger's Dahlia will be aided quite a bit by special effects. That doesn't mean she doesn't have her work cut out for her. "Dahlia’s been extraordinary because I think, to Christophe’s credit, and certainly the entire crew and special effects and design, he’s really, really captured the essence of her and then extended her into the psychological nightmare that will capture the imaginations of the gaming fans."


Playing Dahlia was "a much deeper exploration than I anticipated, because I’m a big lurker on all the sites. And I love the varying competing analysis on all the different characters. With Dahlia, it's been an extraordinary psychological journey for me, as an actor, to embrace this walker between worlds. And," she adds, "as a mad and slightly cryptic prophet, akin to obviously the essence of the game, this has been just a delight to play."


At the press conference later that afternoon, Mitchell pretty much takes control, answering questions, and even asking some. She's still in costume, and sitting next to her screen-daughter, shepherding Ferland through the process. When asked about her own "look" in the movie, Mitchell flashes a wry smile. "This is just the beginning. There’s a whole art and a science to it. And there are people whose heads are on the line to keep each [stain] in the same place. And each hair, you know, as deconstructed as it looks right now. It’s a lot of design." How long does it take, to look so bad? "It took longer in the beginning. I think it can be done in about forty minutes now, the whole look. And it’s great, because I don’t have to wash my hair. I can just show up!"


Today's scene is an important, scary sequence in the film. The nurses are a real favorite in the Silent Hill games, so pains were taken to get them just right. The choreography, the start-and-stop 'dance of the dead', is important… but it's strange to see the scene being filmed in silence, only imagining what the music might sound like later on.


"That’s interesting, to actually create a sequence of suspense with the monster not moving," Gans say of the freeze-frame moments in the nontraditional 'chase' scene. "Of course we are all seeing a lot of movies from Hollywood and we know that [a lot] is made of the movement, and the fast cut. I think it’s interesting sometimes to create a film in just the opposite way. I like this idea that there is a suspense scene among people who are almost not moving."


For all the non-gamers out there, Gans says, "We bring the story very much in the foreground because it's not only a movie for the people who like the game. It's also a movie for a large audience. That's one of the reasons we decided to go to a completely feminine cast: to create something very attractive and sexy in the film, but in a subtle way."


Silent Hill is out in theaters nationwide on April 21, 2006.


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By Staci Layne Wilson


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