Silent Hill: Revelation 3D opens nationwide tomorrow (or tonight at midnight in some areas). It's the second stab at adapting Konami's landmark survival horror franchise for the big screen.
That being the case, no discussion of the sequel is complete without first discussing its predecessor. Especially since, in many people's opinions, the first Silent Hill was one of the better examples of a cinematic video game adaptation.
As the story goes, director Christophe Gans was a hardcore fan of the games; he spent five years trying to convince Konami to allow him to helm the project. After Gans sent an impassioned video interview of himself, the game company was finally won over.
Gans went to great lengths to emulate the look and feel of the source material, to the point that he had a PlayStation 2 hooked up on set, loaded with a copy of Silent Hill 2. He would play the game for both cast and crew to get across the desired look and feel.
Gans knew how important the games' soundtracks were, so not only did he get Akira Yamaoka on board, but he even lifted certain tracks from various titles wholesale. Yamaoka served as producer as well. The adaption was also penned by Roger Avary, who had been involved in some of the most important pieces of cinema of the late 20th century (he also co-wrote both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction). On paper, the movie looked to be a total winner.
But was the first Silent Hill movie actually any good? Unfortunately not.
The end result was something that clearly paid reverence to the subject matter, and fans of the games were delighted by a faithful, respectful interpretation. There was a fear, as with any game-to-movie adaptation, that the source material would be butchered by a director who either didn't understand nor cared. That hadn't happened here.
But was the first Silent Hill movie actually any good? Unfortunately not. Many who were fans of the games (myself included) admired the heartfelt nature of the production, and how the ethereal qualities of the games were emulated perfectly. But not as many believed that the atmosphere was still compelling enough to compensate for the slow pace, lack of plot, and morally ambiguous ending.
In some ways, it mimicked the games a bit too much. Things that worked in Silent Hills 1, 2, 3, and 4 (all original four titles had elements that could be found) don't work nearly as well in a non-interactive format. The ending especially; since you're simply a spectator, one is able to process the major characters' actions more objectively.
Many films have morally questionable figures and plot elements, but the rest of the film, sadly, could not really sustain what the ending of the first Silent Hill proposes. The result was a confusing, less than satisfying "I guess the good guys won?" sensation. It was also too long, a fact that even the movie's biggest defenders cannot refute.
As a result, the first Silent Hill was a dud. So, unsurprisingly, when word came that a second film was forthcoming (which itself was a bit of a minor miracle), changes would have to be made. Gans and Avery were out. A new director, Michael J. Bassett, was going to help usher a new goal: to create something more streamlined and accessible.
That's a great notion, but without the men who so clearly cared so much about the subject matter, there came the understandable fear that Silent Hill: Revelation would be just another video game movie. The final product is something that still manages to be somewhat surprising. With the key word here being "somewhat."
The first real shocker is how the sequel is a direct follow-up to what happened before. Given how the games are mostly standalone pieces AND how the studio wanted a clean break, the last thing one would expect is a continuation. But that's just what we've got.
The first movie introduced Sharon, an adopted girl who has troublesome visions of a place—the town of Silent Hill, the film's namesake. Her mother Rose decided to take he daughter there in order to see if it might help with the nightmares, but instead of curing Sharon's nightmares, they both became trapped in one. After learning of Silent Hill's origin, as well as Sharon's connection to another girl (the embodiment of pure evil), mother and daughter were able to take down the occultists who wanted Sharon dead.
Yet still, the two were not able to leave the town, as it exists in another place and time. The second Silent Hill movie takes place about ten years later; Rose was able to successfully send Sharon back into the real world after all, and into the hands of her husband Christopher. Rose herself stayed behind. Father and daughter ended up being on the run, because the crazy occultists are still after Sharon, seeing as how she's still connected with the demon child tormenting their town.
The occultists believe Sharon's death will not only free them from their torment but bring along a messiah. Or something to that effect. Sharon and her father have been hopping from town to town, starting from scratch every single time. And by the time we catch up with them, Sharon has died her hair blonde and cut it short. She also has a totally new name: Heather. Christopher also sports a new name: Harry. As in Harry Mason, from the first game, and who appears in the third as well, in the same role.
For the most part, Revelation borrows heavily from Silent Hill 3. For this reason, those familiar with that particular installment might know what to expect next: Harry is kidnapped, and despite previous commands that Heather should under no circumstances return to Silent Hill, she's determined to go anyway, since that's where dad is being held captive. She goes even though Vincent, the other new kid at school, who is clearly smitten by Heather, implores her to stay put.
This entire set-up is told at a very rapid pace, a sharp contrast to the first Silent Hill movie, which took seemingly forever to get started. So early on, things are looking good. During the initial 20 minutes, one feels confident that this will be better than the first Silent Hill movie, and possibly a great video game flick period. And then there's a major revelation pertaining to a main character; it made the entire theater groan.
It's pretty bad, yet fairly typical of most C-grade horror flicks. Anyhow, Heather eventually makes it to Silent Hill, where it's a race to find her dad before the occultists kill him. Oh, and she also needs to find another part of some amulet, the existence of which makes no real sense, and which is another major head-scratcher.
Ultimately, Silent Hill: Revelation plays it safe. It's decidedly conventional, which is not the worst thing in the world, but it definitely feels hollow at times. It's a clear trade-off, and your opinion of the end result will almost entirely depend on if you appreciated the first film, warts and all, or found it to be brutally tiresome.
It's funny how Revelation is both a far more literal translation of the games than the previous movie, yet is also far closer to any old horror flick than to a video game-inspired one. Though another big difference is the budget, or at the very least, the fact that the newer film doesn't seem to have the same resources as the first one. The special effects and overall setting are not nearly as impressive.
[Real Spoilers For The End Of The Film Follow]
Some recognizable elements from the games are accounted for, but only the most popular ones. Specifically the undead nurses, which are part of yet another dreadfully stupid scene that is designed to put the viewer on the edge of his/her seat, but which only manages to annoy. The iconic monster Pyramid Head is given similarly odd treatment. Not to totally give everything away, but he's essentially Godzilla. In the sense that he's technically a bad guy, yet ends up helping the home team when all is said and done.
One thing that both movies share, and it's not a good thing, is the lackluster ending. It too is morally ambiguous. I'm not talking about Pyramid Head acting the hero; that's more of a spectacle than anything else. I'm talking about how Heather, who again is connected to an evil sprit, must tap into that in her other self to form the resolution. As previously noted, that kind of stuff works a bit better either in a video game, in which engagement adds depth to such a nuanced concepts.
Silent Hill: Revelation, like many video game to motion picture adaptations, is a tricky beast to judge. That's especially true given the shadow it stands in. Those who enjoy the games will generally enjoy this particular big screen treatment, especially those who dug Silent Hill 3. Meanwhile, those who loved the first movie will be disappointed. Yes, it stays true to the subject matter, but it doesn't have the sense of confidence, the bravado. Virtually no risks are taken.
Silent Hill: Revelation may be unoriginal, but it's not offensive. And thank God the running time is reasonable; it's only an hour and a half long. When judged apart from the game, just as just a movie… one that features a demonic little girl, crazy occultists, zombified nurses, a buffed up dude with a giant metal pyramid for a head sporting a an even bigger sword, all wrapped up in cheesy 3D… it's pretty much the perfect thing to catch this weekend, since Halloween is right around the corner.
Matthew Hawkins is a NYC based game journalist who has been there, done that. From Electronic Gaming Monthly to Nickelodeon Magazine, from msnbc.com to Giant Robot, and from Gamasutra to GameSetWatch, to name a few. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of the Attract Mode collective, and contributes to The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on his personal home-base, FORT90.com.