Silent Hill Set Visit
IGN talks to the cast and steps into the creepy sets of Silent Hill!
by Jeff Otto
February 23, 2006 - There's no beating around the bush, video game movies simply don't have the best reputation. Although some have been financially successful, most have left fans pretty cold in the long run. The initial announcement of a Silent Hill film was met with almost equal excitement and skepticism amongst fans of the popular video game series. When Chrisophe Gans was pegged as director (his previous effort was the cult fan fave Brotherhood of the Wolf), suddenly the video game faithful had hope. The casting of Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Deborah Kara Unger was met with approval from the fandom at large. Most recently, the promotional posters and the trailers have created a nice buzz for the film. Could Silent Hill be the savior of the video game movie genre?
For those unfamiliar with the Silent Hill storyline, the story follows a mother, Rose (Radha Mitchell) as she searches for her lost daughter Sharon (Jonelle Ferland) in the mysterious town of Silent Hill. As Sharon follows what appears to be her daughter, she is drawn into a strange alternate world of foggy darkness filled with a varied assortment of strange beings that have been overtaken by a living darkness that transforms everything it contacts. During her search, Rose is joined by a police officer named Cybil (Laurie Holden). As Rose continues to explore the strange town, she begins to learn just how deep this mystery goes.
Over the summer, IGN FilmForce was among a select and lucky few chosen to fly to Toronto and visit the set during production. We were especially fortunate to tour the set on a day where one of the coolest and creepiest scenes was being shot. In the scene, Rose (Radha Mitchell) had to navigate a dark room filled with zombie-like nurses known as the "Dark Nurses." These nurses are in a kind of catatonic state. Light or physical contact will awaken them, so Rose has to navigate through the Dark Nurses in complete darkness.
The Dark Nurses are each dressed like mummies, with dirty white bandages covering their bodies. As Rose moves past the nurses in the scene, she comes dangerously close to contact. The nurses occasionally twitch and appear to be watching her as she passes. Describing the scene doesn't really do it justice, but watching it on set was sufficiently creepy. It should play out for a very thrilling scene on screen. It was shot in HD and we were told it actually appears brighter in person than it will on screen. Lighting will be toned down and colors muted in the editing stages.
Amusingly enough, at the lunch break, some journalists sat and had lunch with the actresses portraying the nurses. Despite their creepy attire, they were quite friendly. Most all were also quite attractive, even with the bandages, dried blood and whatnot.
As we toured the sets, we got the chance to speak with director Christophe Gans, who was very excited to show us around the sets and tell us about the scene they were shooting. A video game fan himself, Gans freely admitted that he had been very disappointed by the video game movies made thus far. He clearly demonstrated an extensive knowledge of the Silent Hill video games and a confident hope that his film would do the game justice. Gans will be the focus of the second part of our Silent Hill set report next week.
Today we will feature a chat with the cast, including Radha Mitchell (complete with dried blood from the nurse scene), Sean Bean, Deborah Kara Unger and Laurie Holden.
At first glance, the choice of Mitchell in the lead part of Rose may come as a bit of a surprise. The actress has tended to lean towards indie work (Melinda and Melinda) and studio dramas (Man on Fire, Finding Neverland). "I think the major attraction to me was…Christophe," says Mitchell.
"I saw [Brotherhood of the Wolf] and I was intrigued and fascinated because I thought it was a beautiful and exciting and strange and bizarre movie. And so then I met Christophe and I was charmed, obviously, by him. And I guess that's what it was. And then, since we've been making the film, we see the vision and the script comes alive. And it's a very visual piece so when you read it you won't necessarily understand what it is. But, since we've been working on the film, every day has just been an assault on the senses. And I guess today was just a sample of that… I think Christophe has a really interesting take on the concept of the video game. And you do have a sense of what it must feel like to be sort of stuck in this chase. And I guess that's the main challenge … making the variety and keeping that interesting…"
"A lot of the time we're reacting to things that are not necessarily in front of us and the things that we're imagining and we've got to, you know, imagine them at the same time. So we've constantly encouraged the first AD to make loud noises for us so we can all, you know... and be scary. And so everybody's had to become an actor on this movie including the crew. And that's been interesting…"
Deborah Kara Unger plays the part of Dahlia. "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 would capture the imaginations of the gaming fans. So it was a much deeper exploration than I anticipated. I'm a big lurker on all the [web] 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, as a mad and slightly cryptic prophet, akin to obviously the essence of the game, this has been just a delight to play…"
As far as playing the actual Silent Hill video game, the cast had varying levels of experience.
Mitchell: "I'm not a very good player, to be honest. I've tried to play the game and especially to get familiar with the characters better. I mean, it's really an amazing game, having just a limited sort of knowledge of it that I have. And it's got a real sense of sort of poetry and melancholy and things you don't expect in a video game. And then I guess that's what's attractive to me about it. But, in relation to actually getting through the game... (Laughs) I'm always stuck on the fence. I can't get off the fence. But I mean, I'm sure everybody has a different experience. And Christophe, I think he's been known to spend like two to three days straight in his room, playing the game without leaving, without going to the bathroom."
Unger: "Laurie and I both get stuck by the same store, which is really annoying. And I hear … Because I often hear footsteps now and, of course, the sound of destroying the monsters. I like to destroy. I am impressed by the people that get stones and aliens. I mean, who are they? That's incredible."
Bean: "I've not seen it. I've seen a picture. I've seen the front cover but that's about it…"
Holden: "I played the game after I got the part and met Cybil. And then, you know, what's wonderful about the movie Silent Hill is that they honored her, visually. I look like the character and really capture her essence. But, as Sean and Deborah were saying, that Christophe and Roger Avery, together, sat down and created a back story for this character, which really helps flesh out this character. So you really, hopefully…her fans and the gamers and the audience will get to know her a little bit better and, you know, hopefully be touched by what she represents in the film."
"Cybil is a woman who grew up in Brahams, which is a small town outside of Silent Hill," says Holden. "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, Brahams, so I think that because my mother was such a woman of faith and she passed away in a really painful way, it really scarred Cybil. And she's really 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. And there are different things that have happened in her life… She wants to be kind of like the mother of saving the children. So that's Cybil."
It's interesting the way the relationships are constructed in the film," says Mitchell. "The relationship between our characters, is not stereotypical... All the characters are quite sort of fleshed out and mysterious…"
Unger adds, "They're also all psychologically and metaphorically interwoven beautifully. What Christophe has done has been really quite inspirational for all of us as actors and the crew as well. Visually, for the crew, they've had a blast."
Sean Bean plays Rose's husband, Chris DaSilva. "He's sort of a quite successful businessman. They live in a nice house. Things seem to be going well, apart from the child. And I spend most of the time chasing around trying to get on different playing levels, different time levels. But he's a good guy, a regular sort of guy with a bit of money, wears nice clothes and drives a BMW. It's all materialistic."
Bean on Gans: "I think Christophe … he's just got … in mind that you know and even if it doesn't come across to an audience or you don't have the opportunity to show that side then, it gives you some kind of anchor in your head that you know, you have the back story, you've got things. You know, it's just good to invent something, believe in it so that it's always there. But regardless of whether it comes across on the screen or not."
One promise Gans has made with the project is that it will be a straight up horror/thriller and will not pull punches. Mitchell confirms: "It's not your typical movie where everybody's killing the monsters. And, I mean, there's some of that, but it feels very real. And there's been a clear decision to make us, in the situations where we're facing these incredible - like you saw today (in the Dark Nurse scene) - that as if we're really there, it's really straight. There's no inside humor in the film … like winking at the audience. It's very serious. So it's as if it really happened."
"We touch into the area of metaphor and symbolism that's where it's very specific to Christophe," adds Unger. "And there's nothing around them because there are too many details. There are no red herrings for example. There's no tolerance, he has no tolerance for that kind of … because it's such a specific psychological descent journey. And that's fundamental to what has been the appeal, certainly to the game. So it's great working with a bright, bright mind and making choices that will be shared with the audience on that level where certainly they'll be impacted by those choices."
"I'd quite like to see this," says Bean. "I'd like to see what sort of happens. I'm told it's a very psychological sort of horror. It's not something like people getting their legs chopped off and gratuitous violence. I think it's something that you've got to think about. So I've been told. But, you know, from what I've seen and what Christophe has created, it's fascinating. And everybody's, it's their opinion that he's got this elegance and style about him that it's not just sheer horror, there's a sort of poetry to it…"
Looking over Mitchell's resume, Silent Hill is a very different choice for the actress. She says she appreciates the new opportunity. "It's very exciting to be in a film where the director comes with an idea, this big idea and I know that's something that can come to life. And you can be part of a big concept. And also I really enjoy doing films that are sort of character-based and are about the nuances of relationships. So to be able to do both is perfect."
As previously mentioned, Mitchell is sporting some dried blood from the scene before. "This is just the beginning. And, yeah, there's a whole, there's an art and a science to it. And there are people whose heads are on the line to keep [continuity] and each hair, you know, as deconstructed as it looks right now. It's a lot of design. How long does it take? 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 don't get any blood on me at all I don't think," says Bean with a smile.
"I get pretty bloody," Holden says. "I do have to say, you know, the crew has been amazing. Hair and makeup has been unbelievable on this journey because the continuity that they have to keep up with us through the varying degrees of gore and dirt, it's astounding. But, also the set designers and the location managers, we have the most amazing sets. I think Silent Hill fans are going to be knocked out because, visually, our sets look so much like the video game. And it makes our job so easy because we just show up and we are in Silent Hill. We are in that world and we are just so blessed to be surrounded by such great artists."
"The sets are definitely characters in the film. And they have emotional states in that they change and you'll see the same set and you'll see it from a completely different perspective. So it's sort of like a hallucination a lot of it. You'll recognize the sets as you get more involved in the story."
Silent Hill promises to make audiences jump when all is said and done. Even the cast has admitted to a few chills on set.
Holden laughs. "How many can I count? I mean, there are so many. This is a scary movie… It's terrifying because it's so deeply rooted in psychological truths. And really it's not random, it's not there for… as we say, there's no cheese factor. It's actually quite terrifying because it's so deep."
"But at the same time Christophe doesn't pull punches when it comes to the gore factor," says Bean. "If something bad is happening, you can bet it's messy."
Stay Tuned to IGN FilmForce next week for our interview with Christophe Gans from the set as well as our continuing Silent Hill coverage leading up to the April 21st release!