Silent Hill: Revelations Review
Okay, quiz time: remember the last Silent Hill movie by Christophe Gans from 2006? Even though video game movies tend to have a pretty lousy reputation of not being that great, Silent Hill was an admirable attempt to bring the murderous town to the big screen. It had its share of faults, like the entire second half when the Order became the center focus, but the movie also had its fair amount of strengths; aside from some changes in the script, like Harry Mason being replaced by Rose DaSilva as the protagonist, Gaans was very faithful to the original source material. The story was more or less what happened in the first game, there was a haunting atmosphere that filled the audience with a sense of dread, and the creatures were disturbing. In the documentary on the making of Silent Hill, Gans explains the intense fear and love he felt from playing the first game, and he understood what was needed to make an adaptation of this series fit for the big screen. Even with its lackluster second half, Silent Hill is still a great movie.
Seriously, watch this documentary, it’s a really in-depth look into the making of the first film.
With that in mind, imagine my surprise when I heard there was a sequel being produced! I was excited, especially after I heard that the story would be loosely based off ofSilent Hill 3. This was the best logical step they could have taken in making a sequel for the first film, since the first and third Silent Hill games have stories that are very closely related. Having played the original Silent Hill Trilogy, I was amongst those who were craving for another trip into the evil town. My elation slowly faded after I saw tangible trailers of this new movie, and after I saw Pyramid Head was once again going to be involved in the story. Finally, I decided to finally go see Silent Hill: Revelationsfor myself. $11, and two hours, later, I wanted to hang myself.
In hindsight, I kinda wish I didn’t wear a tie.
Oh how I wanted to like this movie. In the beginning, even with forced dialogue that acted more as exposition than actual characters interacting with each other, I said to myself “Give it a chance, it may have a clunky beginning.” Several scenes later, I wish I followed my gut instinct and walked out of the movie. At the end, I felt an anger than I haven’t felt since the days I watched other eye-raping catastrophes like Repo! The Genetic Opera, or Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2. I even went on similar rants to anyone who would listen, just like I did with the other two movies I just mentioned. Honestly, Silent Hill Revelation is a huge letdown, and even if I hadn’t played the games, I still would have hated it. There are so many ways to begin, so let’s start with discussing the story. The story to Silent Hill Revelation follows the general plot of Silent Hill 3. Heather Mason, daughter of the first game’s protagonist Harry Mason, starts being pursued by an evil cult from a town only known as Silent Hill. Uncovering her terrible and mysterious past, Heather learns more about herself as she encounters the horrors that have plagued her entire life. In the end, the Order of Valtiel wants to use Heather as a human incubator for their dark Goddess, and they ultimately fail in bringing forth the end of the world when Heather destroys the evil deity. The general plot of the third game is convoluted as all hell, but that honestly didn’t stop it from being a legendarily scary game. The story for this movie, on the other hand, was one of the very reasons why this movie was stopped from being any good.
Even though the story was somewhat related with that of Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill Revelation‘s story was just an incomprehensible mess. It had the same general premise as its counterpart, with Heather having to return to Silent Hill to confront the evil cult that has pursued her family her entire life. The major difference here is that everything was rushed, and man does it show. Oftentimes, the biggest challenge in adapting anything to film is that you need to condense the story into 1.5-2 hours. Sometimes this works,but most of the time it never ends well. Often, the story is reduced into things that happen because that’s what happened in the source material, and the quality of the movie suffers. For example, I read the book Eragon when I was really young, and admittedly I was a fan at the time. While I never followed through with reading the rest of the series (probably because I soon got sick and tired of the flood of pointless Tolkeinian fantasy stories), I was pretty damn excited when the movie came out. However, the main failing of that film was that they tried to fit the plot into 104 minutes, so what it boiled down to was lots of things from the book happening while general cohesiveness and good storytelling suffered as a result; everything was so rushed that none of the characters were fleshed out, and the plot felt too frantic and empty for me to care.
Silent Hill Revelation fell into this same trap. A lot of the familiar environments and plot points were brought in from the video game, such as the scenes at the mall, apartment, hospital, and carnival. However, because so much happened in the game that could not possibly be fit into a movie, the writers felt they needed to rush through these familiar locations, and sacrifice good storytelling and characterization as a result. For example, there was a scene where Heather wanted to investigate the hospital where a man named Leonard Wolf resides. She does this mainly to find out where Harry is, as she thinks Wolf knows where the Order is holding her dad. When she ultimately finds him, there is a short exchange before Leonard transforms into a monster and attacks her. This was a scene that was inspired by the hospital level in the game, but in the context of the movie, I found it mostly pointless because nothing of consequence really happened. I’m sure the writers felt that since the hospital was a place in the game, and Leonard was a major boss character, they should throw them in there just because. The same can be said for the mall scene.
Heather and Leonard Wolf
Bits of exposition are also forcibly inserted between these inconsequential scenes, but that is not how you effectively tell a story. Between setpieces, characters reveal information that is meant to be important, but don’t you think we should have learned more about the plot through less obvious means than “We want you to birth our god, because you are the chosen vessel!”? The game was far more subtle with the revelation that Heather was carrying the fetus of the evil goddess because she felt the pain of the creature inside of her as she traveled through the Nightmare World, nurtured by her hatred for the Order. There is an age-old parable in storytelling that is very appropriate here: show, don’t tell, especially since movies are a visual medium to begin with. The writing was just so weak, and as a result the characters also suffered because they were just underdeveloped. With the exception of Christopher DaSilva (alias “Harry Mason”), who I felt was a sympathetic character, I didn’t really care that much for any of the other characters; especially for Vincent Wolf, who was written in as an arbitrary love interest. See, this really bothered me because there shouldn’t be a love interest in Silent Hill – these are stories about strong characters exploring their tortured, foggy pasts, not about two teenagers falling in love. I know this may have been to appease movie audiences, but do we really need to do that at the expense of the integrity of the source material? While I admit that they very smartly explained how Sharon from the previous movie was named Heather, and Christopher was named Harry, the haphazard writing really prevented any character development from happening, so I ultimately didn’t care about any of these people.
Ultimately, Silent Hill Revelation has such a weak story because it is not a strong narrative; instead, it is just a sequence of things that happen just because they happened in the game, with bits of forced exposition sprinkled in between scenes. Characters were also very poorly written, and you never really care about any of them.
“Look, I’m scared too, but the director said he’d shoot us both if we don’t make this movie horrible.”
Another major gripe that has been a point of contention amongst Silent Hill fans is that this movie fails to capture the essence of the games. See, it’s apparent that the writers know how to pander to the majority of the fanbase, mainly by including little tidbits from the games that will make them go “OMG I RECOGNIZE THAT, THIS MOVIE IS GREAT!!1!” But for every time they featured Robbie the Rabbit dolls, or for every scene that introduces familiar things from the games like Heather’s white vest, or for every scene that included a cameo from characters like Travis Grady or the protagonist from Silent Hill 6, there were tons of moments throughout the movie that just tells us that the writers had no concept of what Silent Hill is all about. This was mainly illustrated in the creature design, and in the design of the nightmare world in general. In terms of the nightmare world, Silent Hill Revelation had the gist of what it looked like; the world was muted, it was foggy, and it was snowing ash. However, unlike Christoph Gans’s vision in the first movie, and the vision of the video games, Silent Hill Revelation‘s vision of the nightmare world was less based on psychological horror, and a subtle feeling of impending doom, and more based on “BOO! ARE YOU SCARED YET?”
See, one of the most terrifying aspects of the Silent Hill games is that the fear you feel isn’t from monsters jumping out at you like in DOOM or Dead Space. The fear is derived from the oppressive atmosphere, the limited visibility made by the fog and darkness, and the more symbolic nature of the monsters. The goal of Silent Hill isn’t to kill creatures and make it to the end of a level. Instead, the goal is to solve puzzles and uncover your terrible past. The monsters in Silent Hill are meant to be more subtle in their function; you can fight them, but most often you want to run from them instead, and sometimes the creatures aren’t even supposed to harm you. Most of the time, the monsters symbolize elements of the protagonist’s psyche. For example, the Numb Body monsters in Silent Hill 3 appear very early on in the game, and they represent the developing fetus of the Goddess forming inside Heather’s body. This symbolism is subtle because nobody ever explicitly says “LOOK, THESE REPRESENT X.” Instead, the monsters simply exist as enemies, acting as foreshadowing for the later events in the game.
A Numb Body
Even though the first Silent Hill movie wasn’t perfect by any means, director Christophe Gans still understood that subtlety is where a lot of the horror in Silent Hill comes from. In the making of the first film, Gans explicitly stated that he wanted the monsters to not be overly disgusting, but instead simply disturbing. This is important because he understands that overtly-disgusting monsters are just simply ridiculous, and the audiences may not take them seriously. More disturbing creatures, like the Lying Body or the Grey Child, also allow for symbolism to be successfully used. So why am I telling you all of this? Because one of the major failings of Silent Hill Revelation is that there is absolutely no subtlety in the design of Silent Hill, or in the design of the monsters. Whenever Heather found herself in the nightmare world, I felt I was watching “Boo: Haunted House” instead of a Silent Hill movie because the ‘horror’ was no longer psychological. For example, Heather hangs out in the mall at the beginning of the film, and there is a birthday party going on, complete with balloons, cake, and a clown. When everything shifts into the nightmare world, the little children turn into demon children eating a suspiciously red meat, the clown is a demon, and there are also several ‘creatures’ present that have no faces. When Heather runs away, she runs through a kitchen where another faceless monster cuts chunks off of a still-live person, and a regular human chef cooks said meat on a grill. When did we suddenly walk onto the set of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? This sure as hell isn’t scary. Again, this is something you’d expect in something called “Boo: Haunted House” because it takes away all of the subtlety and psychological elements that made Silent Hill 3 a great game. It’s over-the-top, and it is one of the more telling signs that the writers and director clearly didn’t care about the source material. The design of the monsters is also indicative of this.
One of the original monsters in the movie.
See, the monsters in the Silent Hill games are all disturbing in their own right, but they also carried that symbolic weight to them. This was also emphasized in the first Silent Hill movie, as I already said before. Watching Silent Hill Revelation, the new monster designs throw all subtlety out the window, and they also seem rather uninspired. With the original monsters from the first film, they seemed more inspired, such as with the Janitor and the Grey Children (the latter creatures were inspired by the demonic children in the first game, but Gans made this new variation for the film). I want you to look at the following scene where Rose, the stand-in for Harry, first transcends into the dark world and encounters the Grey Children:
The thing that you should notice right off the bat is how, at first glance, viewers unfamiliar with Silent Hill will not realize that Rose has crossed over into the dark world without even knowing it, so when the Grey Children show up both she and the audience are caught off-guard. The suspense was done justice in this scene because there was good build-up to the discovery of the gored miner, and the introduction of the Grey Children. These creatures, to emphasize, had a simplistic but disturbing design, they didn’t overstay their welcome, and they were a great way to show that there was an element of danger lurking in the town. For the sake of comparison, the first scene where Heather discovered there was a dark world was the scene in the mall. As I already said above, there was nothing subtle about that scene, and it didn’t seem like it had a whole lot of thought put into it. For an example at the creature design, a majority of the monsters in Sient Hill Revelation looked like this:
Oh, gooooood, a regular guy without a face.
Where is the inspiration here? Okay sure, it’s a guy without a face, but what is the symbolism? Where is the effort? Where else have we seen creatures like this? (Spoilers:In a hell of a lot of horror movies and folklore, actually). This is just lazy. Why couldn’t other monsters from Silent Hill 3 be used instead, like the Numb Bodies, Closers, or Insane Cancers? There could have been so much potential with Heather coming across some of the scariest enemies in the whole damn game. On a positive note, there is a somewhat inspired new monster in the film, and that is the one that appears in one scene, the mannequin spider. The only problem with this creature, and indeed the whole scene, is that there is nothing subtle about it, as it plays out largely like a teen slasher flick: two teenagers run from a loud, roaring, fast monster. Once again, there was no real point to this scene, so while the idea for the monster was neat, the potential was wasted on what amounts to a chase scene.
Actually, do you know what I realized? I think the core problem behind this movie failing to be a proper Silent Hill movie is so much larger than the lack of subtlety, or the unfaithfulness to the source material. I think the reason why Silent Hill Revelation fails on so many levels is because it was purposefully made with the intent of spawning another successful action movie series, akin to the long-running Resident Evil movie series. Hear me out now, this isn’t just to generate ire amongst the Silent Hill fans who may be reading this review. I legitimately think that this is the case, and there are so many telling signs to affirm this belief. Why do you think the subtlety and horror from the first Silent Hill movie has abruptly been replaced with lazily-designed monsters, loud jump scares, and action-packed scenes with exposition forced into the mix? Why do you think that Pyramid Head, who was arbitrarily thrown into the film for the sake of fanservice, gets into a climactic sword-fight with the Mercenary boss from Silent Hill 3 (I’m not exaggerating, it’s like a full-blown swordfight)? Why do you think that the Umbrella logo is not-so-discretely slapped into the carnival scene when Alice- er, I mean Heather, is facing her dark alter-ego?
It couldn’t be more obvious, and this is where the central flaw of Silent Hill Revelation lies: for the sake of ticket sales, and getting the asses in seats, the producer behind the film (incidentally, the same producer as the Resident Evil franchise) completely ignores what makes the source material so great, and instead bastardizes the story of Silent Hill so that the movie can look and feel just like a Resident Evil film instead. This is why Resident Hill Revelation 3D utterly bombed in the box office with a measly $8 million dollars, and this is why the producer of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill movie franchises is going back to his prized cash cow as his backup plan (there’s a sixth Resident Evil in the works).
As a result, Silent Hill Revelation is a movie that you should absolutely avoid with prejudice. This movie flopped for a reason, and that is because it is completely devoid of good storytelling skills, it has no imagination (instead relying on pandering to the less dedicated Silent Hill fangirls), and it is trying to be a big action movie when its predecessor was actually one of the better video game movie adaptations in the past decade. Unlike the first Silent Hill, which is a flawed gem, Silent Hill Revelation is a trainwreck. Avoid it at all costs.