How about this for a Halloween entry? Silent Hill is one of my favourite horror franchises. It’s a brilliant, scary take on surrealist horror, as I’ve previously discussed. And I think the first Silent Hill film was one of the best game-to-movie adaptations ever. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set very high, but I really did think it was a good film, with suitable tone and pacing, and brilliant practical effects that brought Silent Hill’s array of monsters to life. But we’re here to talk about the more recent sequel, Revelation.
(Spoilers for the games will go unmarked from here on out, by the way.)
Bless this movie’s heart, because it just tries so, so hard to be good that I almost want to give it consolation points. It tries to appeal to fans of the games, with the names, locales and even wardrobe choices echoing Silent Hill 3, my personal favourite of the game series. And really, we should appreciate that in an adaptation, when the opposite end of the spectrum is something like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which kicked Deadpool fans just right in the soul.
That said, the problems just stack up atop one another. It’s technically a well-made movie, but it’s the little things about the narrative that get me.
Like, take the monsters: the first Silent Hill film played up the games’ unique sense of the Uncanny, and used pretty much all practical effects for the monsters, giving us such creatures as Colin the Bad-Touch Janitor and the Gray Children. Much like the games, it balanced on that fine line between the “monstrous” and the “human enough to make you uncomfortable”, and a lot of them had deeply symbolic roots in the plot, again a faithful turn from the games.
Revelation, though? It feels like the Mannequin Spider is too “blatantly” CG, which is out of place in a series with such startlingly good practical effects, while Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss play denizens of Silent Hill who start human and then transform into monsters. And while they look good enough as monsters, they lack the uncanny nature of the first film’s monsters, as well as the symbolic roots that made the first SH’s gruesome sights not only frightening, but meaningful.
In fact, some of the most uncanny and disturbing monsters, to me, were the ones that only appear for a moment, like the random monstrous inmate that accosts Heather when she arrives at the asylum in Silent Hill. Ugh, that face.
While the first film was well-balanced between the “surface world”, the Foggy World and the Otherworld, the pacing on that front is very weird and unbalanced in Revelation. It takes almost half the film for us to reach Silent Hill proper (other than the carnival dream-sequence at the beginning, another throwback to Silent Hill 3), and then we get one scene in the fog before the infamous air-raid siren, and then we get the Otherworld until the very last scene, when it’s foggy again. Part of what made the Otherworld so effective in SH1 was absorbing how its nightmarish insanity contrasted against the eerie tranquility of the fog, and we don’t really get a chance to appreciate that here.
Instead, the first act takes place in the “real world”. Heather and Harry (the daughter and father from the first movie, who have had to change their names and move around the country in the preceding years) are making a living for themselves, but Heather’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious private-eye and a teen her age named Vincent.
What follows is a rather effective setpiece in the mall, another nod to Silent Hill 3, where Heather starts seeing monsters where there are just ordinary people – or are they? Ultimately, Harry is kidnapped by a cult from Silent Hill, setting off the impetus to get Heather back there. I won’t spoil the plot, but in summation – Vincent just met her, and she’s going a little crazy, but they’ve got her father, so go to Silent Hill maybe?
One nice thing this movie does is to throw in an explainer that justifies Pyramid Head’s presence in the movie series, rather than simple fanservice. Alright, now I have to back up. For those of you who haven’t played the games, Pyramid Head is from Silent Hill 2, and he’s a big dick.
No, that’s really it. He, like the other monsters of Silent Hill, is a symbolic creature, and that huge knife of his represents exactly what you think. He represents a part of James Sunderland’s repressed guilt over killing his wife.
In the movie series, it’s now explained that Pyramid Head is a guardian of Alessa in Silent Hill, and by extension a guardian of the Otherworld. Given that Alessa has been so heavily victimized in the first Silent Hill that it’s hard not to understand her rage and hate, this turns Pyramid Head into an almost-kinda-good-guy.
In fact, that reaches its apex in the climax of Revelation, when he has a one-on-one fight with Carrie-Anne Moss’s demon-dominatrix-thing, pictured above. And it’s…I dunno. I really don’t. It’s kind of like when the Doom movie climaxed with a martial arts battle: I guess it’s fun to watch and all, but is it really what we came to see? When I watch this fight, I can totally imagine some Manson or Slipknot song playing under it. That is not a compliment, considering we are talking about a series built on the Art Of The Freaking Unknown. Basically, it’s trying to be the Resident Evil films, is what I’m saying.
This, to me, is a film where individual good moments stand out moreso than the film as a whole. That scene with the nurses? That is creepy and incredibly tense. I won’t say any more than that. You’ll just have to watch it.
As a sequel, it tries to go beyond simply aping its predecessor, and I can appreciate that. But at the same time, it ends up unbalancing the delicate equilibrium that made the first one come up such a treat.
Also, apparently it’s a 3D film, but I have nothing to say about that. I may have seen it as 3D in the theater, but I honestly can’t remember if I did or not. That’s how tertiary the 3D is to the experience in this case. There are a few “3D bait” moments, like seeing dismembered fingers or a decapitated head flying at the screen, but on the whole it seems to be one of those movies where the 3D effects are limited to the realm of “stuff flying at you occasionally”.
The film ends with a threequel hook, with Harry going back into the town to try and find his wife, and the fog engulfing him. A Silent Hill movie that stars Sean Bean in the lead role instead of as a supporting member? Where’s that image again?
Anyhow, Silent Hill: Revelation is rated R and has plenty of blood and gore and disturbing imagery, as well as a female nude scene (crotch is covered, breasts are visible). Not that I really need a content warning, because all of the games are rated M anyway. It’s not as good as the first by a country mile, and the pacing problems run deep. But it’s not an abomination, and its heart is in the right place, even if the execution didn’t pan out as well as the first. I’d say see it insofar as to judge for yourself.
As much as I wanted to love it, this one gets a middling two out of four air-raid sirens of impending doom. Happy Halloween.