OCTOBER 27, 2012
The first Silent Hill was and remains one of the best video game adaptations (not so hard) and one of 2006's stronger horror films (slightly harder, that was a damn good year), but it had a major hurdle: it was damn near impenetrable. I had to give the film a second look to understand it, which is not ideal for what is a rather lowbrow form of entertainment (horror movies based on video games). So it's kind of funny that the late-arriving sequel Silent Hill: Revelation suffers from the opposite problem - it never STOPS explaining things to us.
Seriously, at one point the film has nothing but exposition for what seems like 15 straight minutes, with our now grown hero Alessa (or Heather, now) from the first film listening as her new pal (an AWFUL Kit Harington; stick to being Jon Snow, dude) explains what's going on now, just after she explained what happened in the first film and between, and just before she enters the town and gets another mouthful from Deborah Kara Unger, returning from the original for this one scene. There are other such scenes throughout, to the extent that the movie feels like a Metal Gear game - you "play" for a bit (meaning, Heather will run around, encounter/fight off a monster or two, escape) and then you watch a cutscene of people standing around yammering about the nigh on incomprehensible plot.
I compare to Metal Gear because I've never actually played a Silent Hill game; perhaps they similarly consist of a lot of stop and go. I do know the basic plots of a few, enough to catch a few in-jokes (the movie's final scene has at least two) and recognize the monsters, but not much about each game's detailed story or the gameplay. And for that, I have to give Michael J. Bassett (taking writing and directing duties here) for pulling together a movie that kind of works for everyone - they explain everything about the original for those who haven't seen it, it doesn't seem as murky to non-game players like me, and (I assume) that he's worked to make sure game fans are happy as well, as it would be weird to cater so much to the other two groups while ignoring what would probably be the target audience - game fans who of course HAD seen the first film.
And to the movie's credit, it kind of made me want to run home and play it (I own I think Silent Hill 2 or 3? The latter part of one of my many "buy two get one free" endeavors), but of course me being me I went from the theater to see another movie (Alex Cross, a tedious "thriller" boosted by Tyler Perry's alien screen presence). There's definitely a great concept in there, and unlike its closest rival Resident Evil, it seems like each game tells a stand-alone story that enhances the overall mythology of the town itself, rather than bring back the same protagonists (and villain) and just ship them off to new locales every time. In fact, you'd think that would be the ideal property for a movie series, as they wouldn't be as beholden to the previous film's cast and storyline, and can merely work in background information to enrich the experience for fans while not alienating the newcomers. So it's odd that it has taken six years to get this sequel off the ground (the original was a hit), but even odder that they actually brought back its characters.
I do wish they had introduced some new monsters, however. Almost all of the things we see here - Pyramid Head, the "nurses" that move when they hear sound, and the generic mutated freak things - were in the first movie, and I have to assume that the eight or nine games have created more baddies than that. Unless I'm mistaken, the only new one is a creepy mannequin-spider thing that is unfortunately also the only all CGI creation, lessening its impact. Thus the scares get a bit familiar, since we've seen a number of them already in the first movie - except now they're in 3D! It's kind of fascinating, the first film often resembled a 3D movie being watched in 2D, as Christophe Gans frequently framed his shots with a lot of depth and things in the foreground sticking out (there are even a couple of "comin at ya!" shots). So now, in ACTUAL 3D, when Pyramid Head sticks his axe in our face, it should be a really cool moment, but I was just reminded of when he did it in the first film. However, the overall effect is quite good - even with the abundance of chatter, the nonstop ash "snow" and moving about from one decrepit location to another keeps you from feeling like you could just take the glasses off.
As for the rest of the cast, eh. Sean Bean is solid as always, but his role is limited. Ditto for Martin Donovan as a PI who may or may not be on their side, and Radha Mitchell's role shouldn't even have been credited since it amounts to a single SHOT. Adelaide Clemens as Heather is in pretty much every frame of the movie, and if you can get past her resemblance to Michelle Williams (except when she's angry, then she turns into Jennifer Lawrence), she's quite personable and fun to watch - a great horror heroine in that you root for her but get the impression that she can take care of herself. But while it's a relief when Harington gets captured and is thus off-screen for a while, I do wish there was someone else to go on the journey with her for an extended period, as the movie feels a bit like "The Odyssey" (not an intentional way, I don't think) where she meets someone, has a conversation/fight, and then they're never seen again. I don't think any of the names in the cast save Bean have more than 1-2 (brief) scenes, so there's a slight lack of tension in the earlier scenes in the town - you know she's going to be fine until the ending, and no one else is around to get attached to. The first film had the great duo of Mitchell and Laurie Holden, and you got to care about them both and thus be upset when Holden was murdered - this movie lacks that.
But as a (at times literal) "carnival haunted house" type horror movie, it works. Sure, the original is better, and I suspect the six year wait is more problematic than any of the actual film's issues, but I was never bored, the emphasis on practical FX was admirable, Clemens was engaging, and the script did a decent job of completing not only the first film's story but also this new one. It could have used another protagonist, and I'd gladly swap out one of its exposition scenes for another set-piece, but all things considered (including the horrible word of mouth from friends), it could have been a lot worse. In short: it was fine.
What say you?