Monday, October 10, 2022

Silent Hill: Revelation

Note: This review contains spoilers for Silent Hill (Film) and Silent Hill 3.

While Team Silent’s Silent Hill entries maintain a high reputation, the same cannot be said of the films, which proved more divisive with both critics and fans. To give an idea, the original film currently holds a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 63% audience score while the sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation, currently holds a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes with only a 35% audience score. Knowing this going in to both, as part of my journey through the Silent Hill series, I thought that for all its faults, the original film still understood the games and nailed the atmosphere and certain themes in live action. As for the sequel, its misguided attempts at reconciling the general plot of Silent Hill 3 (SH3) with the film continuity makes for an aimless and confusing mess that hardly resembles its source material.

Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) and her father Harry (Sean Bean) have been on the run for years, moving from town to town under different identities. While attending her first day of school, Heather meets Vincent Cooper (Kit Harrington), another new student, and is haunted by visions of Silent Hill. She also runs into private investigator Douglas Cartland (Martin Donovan), who follows her to the mall and warns her that a cult called the Order of Valtiel is after her. When Heather returns home with Vincent, she discovers that her father was kidnapped and, against his wishes, goes to Silent Hill to find him.

Heather (Adelaide Clemens) travels to Silent Hill.

Since Revelation more directly borrows from the plot of SH3, the first act is partially spent reconciling the differences between the games and the events of the original film to better bring it in line with the source material. While very clumsy, the script at least makes an admirable attempt at doing so, which includes repurposing an important item from the game to help explain how Sharon could be with her father despite being previously trapped in the Fog World and also still have amnesia over her origin. Staying on the run from The Order also neatly explains how she and her father could have their names from SH3. This attempt at filling in the gaps also allows the film to hit certain story beats it otherwise couldn’t, including the Otherworld in the mall, the two visits to Lakeside Amusement Park and a certain encounter on a merry-go-round. Outside of this, it manages to work in all of the characters and important items from the game, even if they are remixed or repurposed.

While perhaps not to the same extent as the previous film, Revelation also made an attempt at recreating the look of SH3. The Seal of the Metatron and its associated symbols are game-accurate and the look and feel of the town of Silent Hill, as well as the transitions between the Fog World and the Other World, were consistent with the first film. Heather’s appearance was also accurate, down to her clothes and an actress who physically resembles her, and the amusement park mascot Robbie the Rabbit looks just like he does in the game.

Unfortunately, the film’s interpretation of the game’s story falls flat. Part of this comes from its breakneck pace, likely a result of its shorter 95-minute runtime, giving little breathing room for any one plot development while the film speedruns itself. As such, certain revelations feel like they come out of nowhere, like Vincent’s connection with Heather or the true natures of Claudia (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Leonard (Malcolm McDowell), and the ending doesn’t feel earned.

While I wasn’t immediately against the idea of repurposing characters for the sake of adapting the story to a new medium, the way these characters are handled leads to wasted potential or muddying the plot. For example, while Douglas has a much larger role in the original game, he’s killed off very early in the film, robbing him of any further development and reducing him to merely a quick way of expositing about Heather and The Order. As a consequence, Heather's motivation for returning to Silent Hill differs greatly and doesn't have the same impact as her motivation in SH3, with her resulting actions only highlighting just how vulnerable she is in the film compared to the game, where she could hold her own against otherworldly threats. Similarly, this version of Vincent hints at how two people can view the same world differently, though the film never capitalizes on this concept and his dialogue isn't nearly as memorable as his original counterpart. Then there's Pyramid Head, who reappears as a more benevolent figure, but even with the explanation provided by the film, he still feels like he's only included for fanservice.

Despite the explanation, Pyramid Head is still out of place.

Of course, much of the film’s issues come from how it handles the horror genre, even discounting its misunderstanding of what made Silent Hill work. For a quick comparison, the games, and even the original film to some extent, leaned more into psychological horror and focused on subtle but still frightening revelations, as well as very human reactions to the nightmares of the town. Silent Hill in general took inspiration from films like Jacob's Ladder when crafting this approach, with SH3 also borrowing from Session 9 and even directly referencing it. While the games did feature blood and gory imagery, they weren’t too over-the-top and helped establish a grim and otherworldly atmosphere.

Silent Hill: Revelation, however, operates more like a generic horror movie and even leans into trite horror tropes like body horror for the sake of shock value, dark clown imagery and the groan-inducing idea that Silent Hill was built on an Indian burial ground. The monsters newly introduced to the film also feel out of place with Silent Hill's aesthetic, not helped by some visually-clashing CGI. Speaking of the CGI, it's very noticeable that the film was originally released in 3D, as it often relies on throwing objects at the screen, which looks very silly when viewed flat. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the subtle psychological scares are brushed aside for failed attempts at cheap jump scares and the very cinematic camera angles from the first film are replaced with safer and more conventional ones. Lakeside Amusement Park, besides not sitting near an actual lake, also looks pretty generic and doesn’t utilize the game’s unique brand of unsettling imagery.

It’s a shame, really, since the film does manage to have its flashes of brilliance. There’s a well-crafted sequence at the mall where Heather watches a birthday party for another girl named Heather and we see a balloon slowly turn around and change its text to specifically address Heather Mason and her true identity. One of the new monsters, a mannequin spider with webs made of saran wrap, is actually an interesting idea for a creature, but would have worked better in another film. Robbie the Rabbit’s bright color scheme is also accurate in how it clashes with the darker coloration of the world around him, but I found myself wishing that the film had taken more advantage of that particular detail to unsettle the audience rather than combine it with other cheap horror.

While game-accurate, Robbie the Rabbit is underutilized.

Still, the subpar acting doesn’t help matters, with only the more famous actors and maybe Adelaide Clemens turning in a decent performance. The music remains decent, especially when tracks from the games like “Promise (Reprise)” appear, though there was a missed opportunity with using SH3’s main theme, “You’re Not Here.”

If you’re looking for a decent horror film or a decent video game adaptation, you’ll find neither with Silent Hill: Revelation. Unless you have the right group of friends, there are better ways to spend 95 minutes.

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