The “Silent Hill” video game franchise is beloved primarily for its ability to instill dread in the player by pairing unsettling art direction and atmospheric music with character-driven narratives. In 2006, when director Christophe Gans adapted the series for the screen, he chucked the Japanese game developers’ multi-faceted storytelling approach out the window in favor of a distinctly Westernized, boo-scare-oriented style. As disappointing as this may have been to the core “Silent Hill” fanbase, Gans’ conventional approach would have worked had he actually executed the scares well, but he failed to do so, focusing too heavily on the film’s overlong and convoluted plot.
Six years later and with a new writer/director at the helm (Michael J. Bassett), the series gets a new lease on cinematic life with “Silent Hill: Revelation.” Rather than attempt to reverse the simplifications that Gans made to the source material, Bassett instead embraces the traditional horror stylings of the first “Silent Hill,” even taking them a step further. But he uses them effectively where the prior director did not. Although “Silent Hill: Revelation” is still light-years away from the delicately paced, subtly horrifying experience of the games, Bassett brings the material to a sort of apotheosis. With the addition of 3-D, the series’ copious blood and guts are hoist literally into the viewer’s face, delivering an extravaganza of horror ultra-violence. Bassett succeeds because he places the monsters and gore front and center, distilling the material down to its base elements and avoiding Gans’ misstep of getting caught up in plotting. “Silent Hill: Revelation” may not be in the least bit scary, but damn, is it fun.
The story picks up roughly eight years after the original, in which Rose (Radha Mitchell) rescued her daughter, Sharon, from the cursed town of Silent Hill, getting lost in the process. In an attempt to evade the forces that want to take her back, Sharon has been renamed Heather (Adelaide Clemens) and is now being pursued by the Order of Valtiel, a doomsday cult that needs her to give birth to their evil god. Her father, Harry (Sean Bean), is kidnapped by the Order, which compels Heather to return to Silent Hill, accompanied by Vincent (Kit Harington), a new kid in town who is secretly part of the cult. Silent Hill is infested with twisted monsters and apparitions that terrorize Heather and Vincent, including the Pyramid Head and the undead nurses of the first film.
Bassett’s script, for all its forehead-smacking dialogue and outlandish story-points, works because it’s easy to follow and allows for a briskly paced 94 minute running time — a much needed change from the original’s unforgivable length of over two hours. The original’s primary problem was that it spent too much time developing its excessively solemn story with little payoff, rather than showing off its strengths: well-designed creatures and environments. Bassett skirts this issue by quickly moving the plot from one action set-piece to the next, keeping the viewer up to speed on the details through the characters’ admittedly blatant expository conversations.
Speaking of the creature design: this is one area in which “Silent Hill: Revelation” lives up to the games’ high standard. While select CG elements look chintzy–the film was budgeted at just $30 million–most are impressive, particularly those on a creature made entirely of mannequin parts that behaves like a giant spider. The practical effects make for even more detailed-looking monsters, especially on series-favorite Pyramid Head, a towering man who has a massive iron box for a noggin and an enormous cleaver to go with it. Further, the 3-D enhances the gruesomeness of the beasts; a memorable sequence involves Heather blasting a faceless man through his gaping maw, which sprays viscera directly into the viewer’s face. The finale of “Silent Hill: Revelation” wisely relegates the human characters to the sidelines to allow two huge monsters to duke it out, encircled by hellish flames.
“Silent Hill: Revelation” succeeds because it sticks to engaging the viewer on a primal level with ugly creatures and buckets of blood, showcased via impressive technical craftsmanship, rather than attempting an over-complicated narrative like its predecessor. As far as video game adaptations go, viewers cannot really ask for much more; the uniquely spooky experience of the source material is difficult to replicate on film due to the medium’s less intimate, third-person experience. Writer/director Bassett recognizes this and, as a result, mines the games’ most translatable qualities for the screen. Perhaps a more innovative filmmaker will one day invent a way to cinematically convey the feel of gameplay, but until then, Bassett has given audiences the next best thing.