Saturday, November 03, 2012

REVIEW: Silent Hill Revelation

'Silent Hill: Revelation' released to coincide with Halloween as a sequel to the horror film 'Silent Hill', and an adaptation of the 3rd game from the survival horror series by Konami. The Silent Hill franchise has been in a tough spot lately. Recent games, outsourced to overseas developers were not receiving good critical reception, and always being compared to the earlier PS2 Japanese developed  games which are critically acclaimed. But the recent HD collection was badly developed with numerous problems. And the recent console game 'Silent Hill: Downpour' seems to have mixed reception in terms of its quality, largely laid down to the game's own technical issues. The latest game for the PlayStation Vita called 'Book of Memories' is also dividing fans who see it as a large genre break from the traditional series. So with all that baggage, many fans were hoping that the film sequel would be a bright spot for the series which thus far had been marred with development controversies in the midst of a marketplace that was shifting away from survival horror to more action-oriented games.

For awhile there the new director and writer, Michael J. Bassett, seemed to be approaching everything in the right manner. Fans were aware that the first film adaptation changed a lot of significant things compared to the games. So the sequel was positioned as an attempt to bring the films more in line with the game's universe. But of course the sequel also had to directly follow the events and set-up of the first film. With that in mind, many were hoping for a film that closely resembled the game adaptation of Silent Hill 3, which it was being based on, as closely as possible, while being a better follow up to the first film that had its adherents and its detractors.

'Silent Hill Revelation's story begins years after the events of the first film. We encounter a high school girl named Heather who is being raised by Christopher, the husband of Rose and Sharon, from the first film. It turns out that Christopher somehow managed to get Sharon back after she and her adopted mother disappeared in Silent Hill. Sharon is now calling herself Heather and we find her on the eve of her 18th Birthday. She and her father have been on the run from someone who is continuously sending people after them to get Sharon back. Sharon doesn't remember what happened when she was a little girl with her mother in Silent Hill, nor how she returned. But lately, terrible dreams and daytime visions have been plaguing her. While attending her new school, she finds herself being watched and followed. Upon arriving home, Heather finds her home broken into, her father missing and a bloody message beckoning her to go to Silent Hill. She gets the help of a fellow student she just met named 'Vincent' who takes a liking to her and asks him to drive her there. Together, the two of them attempt to find her father and discover who she is. However, Vincent seems to know more about who Heather is than she does, and he changes his mind and begs her not to go. Heather becomes suspicious of Vincent and escapes to Silent Hill on her own. Arriving there she finds herself trapped in its otherworldly dimension and must survive the creatures she encounters and piece together her path to find her father, find out who kidnapped him, and discover who she really is. A plot that closely resembles that of the game Silent hill 3 while also following from the events and established premise and characters of the first film.

So does the new film live up to the expectations of the game's fan base and horror movie fans in general? Sadly... it does not...

The issues with the movie are clear right from the very start. The Silent Hill games generally take a slower more methodical approach, as did the first film, where we get to know something about the characters and what they're looking for in a comfortable evenly paced manner; only then are we inevitably led down a gradual descent into horror. The film opens similarly to the game where we encounter Heather having a nightmare in an amusement park which acts as a premonition of things to come. However, from there we are given rapid fire doses of information through badly written, clich├ęd and poorly acted dialogue that is also entirely rushed. One thing leads to another too quickly at random. Heather is continuously confronted by brief moments of hallucinations where the world and people around her change into grotesque things. New characters enter the story, reveal themselves as someone in one scene, only to quickly turn around a few moments later and declare otherwise in a following scene. It's all quite jarring. Perhaps the director was intending to highlight some of the mythos of the game, and also the theme of 'revelations' and false identities and illusions that quickly unravel, but this is handled quite badly. Far better would it have been were such things to unfold over the longer course of the film rather than all right in the first 10-15 minutes.

How Sharon managed to return home following the events of the first film is depicted through a quick rather awkwardly directed scene between Christopher and Rose that is never well elaborated on outside of some contrived occult relic, and never brought up again. Possibly this information was held back as a set up for a sequel. References are made to occultic symbols and seals that only seem to act as convenient plot devices without any larger context. Those who have played the games will recognize some of them, but most audiences will be entirely lost and unable to fill in the gaps, so such things will simply be meaningless.

The entire first act of the film is so problematic, you'd wonder how it ever got past the scripting phase. Particularly annoying are the introduction of characters like Douglas Cartland and Vincent. The former character of Douglas is wasted and hardly relevant even within the film's context. The second character 'Vincent' was already criticized early in the production for being an entirely different character than the very memorable one from the game. Even if the character was arguably changed to accommodate the film's version, it still fails in that regard, so not only was the new character of Vincent poorly conceived in the film, audiences will also never know of the great character from the game; not that it would matter much anyway given the overall poorness of the film itself.

Another central and important character that is reduced is that of Claudia, played by Carrie Ann Moss, who is the cult leader that is after Heather. In the game, Claudia is driven by religious devotion and fervour to make the world a better place, and practically reveres Heather whom she knew as a child. Here, she is a 2 dimensional villianess who is overly cruel to everyone around her, including her own relatives, and seeks only to destroy Heather so that she and her followers can escape the prison of Silent Hill. But this highlights two other plot problems with Revelations...

In the first Silent Hill film, it appeared as if practically all the residents and cult members trapped in the Otherworld were eliminated. Here, all of a sudden there are a lot more of them around. Where were they during the first film? Why didn't Rose encounter them? Were they just secluded in another part of town? If so, why barely more than a passing mention of Cristabella and the cult who were destroyed in the first film? And secondly, Claudia in Revelations obviously seemed to have figured out some method for sending her followers out of Silent Hill into the world to catch Heather. Why didn't they just all escape that way? If they couldn't or if there were some limitations or some reason that they had to remain there, what was it? Why isn't it discussed? The film tells us nothing, it just leaves all these questions dangling in the minds of viewers.

The other problem with the first act which ought to be an obvious no-no, is the amount of exposition. Something the first film was criticized for doing in the second act through a narration, though it is arguably handled better here.We are told who Heather is, her past, Silent Hill, the cult and many other things all in the first act. This eliminates any and practically all mystery that could've stuck around to keep us interested in the plot and in Heather's character, all that's left is wondering how she'll manage to save her father. There's very little to keep us invested, we feel we've learnt everything already, so all that's left to do is simply find a way to resolve it, and this by itself diminishes the rest of the movie.

That's not to say that Silent Hill Revelation doesn't have it's moments. By the time the 2nd act kicks in and Heather finds herself in Silent Hill, we get to enjoy the visual sets and monsters. The second act is actually very enjoyable! We get glimpses of other people who might get caught in Silent Hill. There are of course the monsters. Pyramid Head in particular arrives on the scene in a very awesome way! Although... the anticipation of seeing him again is somewhat ruined by having him appear immediately in the opening scenes; another fine example of the film itself killing our anticipations right from the first act. The encounter between Heather and Leonard Wolfe, played by Malcolm McDowell, is an excellent scene that manages to be even more interesting than the game's depiction! It is here that we definitely encounter some of the best portions of Silent Hill, and Bassett manages to decently craft and direct some great stuff here including an encounter with the nurses in the asylum. The second act of the film is chock full of great moments, scenes and imagery that one would hope the film was somehow finally managing to turn itself around. But sadly this does not last...

As we approach the climax, we are reminded again of the main plot into which we hardly feel invested; something the 2nd act dispensed with for insight into the mystery about Silent Hill itself and how it could  supposedly behave and work coupled with intense moments of danger and escape. The climactic encounter in act 3 is best described as a showdown between monsters. In my opinion, during the games it is the main characters themselves who must symbolically and literally fight and defeat their monsters. The first film technically deviated from that by instead having the antagonists face the wrath of Alessa, which was fine and cathartic. Revelation does this in a thematically similar manner, but it just comes off as something more suitable to an action film like 'Alien Vs. Predator'  rather than what we'd normally associate with the nature of the games, or even with the general nature of horror movies where the weaker human characters find themselves in a desperate situation against the threat of the monster. They must then overcome all odds to survive, which makes for thrilling dramatic tension! What we end up with is more of a cage match between suitably equal combatants. There are plenty more odd issues that can be pointed out, but doing so would involve spoiling the film.

Silent Hill Revelation is a big disappointment for a horror series that holds so much promise for something different. It's set design, it's world, it's monsters and the manner in which people interact with it can make for some truly excellent stories that explore the human condition, tragedy, loss, desire, and judgement. The use of 3-D in the film is also very good, natively shot and wonderful for a film where the environments are part of its character. The moment the film opens with the title and the falling ash floating in front of you already shows how very cool 3-D immersion in films can be! There is also the new background music, a few tracks by the series traditional composer Akira Yamaoka, with new compositions and remixes of the game's soundtracks by Jeff Dana that add well to the aural atmosphere.What we end up with, however, is that all this good stuff get buried down by a poor script, poor acting, poor direction and poor editing of random and disjointed imagery that might have been wonderful within the context of a better story and presentation. The film doesn't even really enter any of the intriguing and disturbing territory that the third game encapsulates with concern to Alessa, the Order's beliefs and what Claudia was really attempting to do.

The horror aspects of the film also seem more centred on gore and general macabre shock through presentations of  mutilation and meat consumption that I assume are just there to loosely represent hell and Alessa's further torturous wrath upon the cult members. But it all feels rather hollow and darkly comedic, which I'm sure was not the intention. There is more horror and disturbance in the atmospheric trailer for Lars Von Tier's 'Antichrist' than there is in this entire movie. And it is that sort of atmosphere and horror one would hope Silent Hill film adaptations could've aimed for, even with all the grating metal, fire and brimstone. Even for all Christophe Gans changes and the caricatured witch hunting cult he brought to the series, the first Silent Hill made for a more compelling and atmospheric experience with better developed characters and better pacing.

Was it the smaller budget, and shorter run time, that forced these decisions? Was it studio meddling like that which affected the production of the first film? Was it just a poor effort by the director/writer himself? I certainly don't know. But whatever the case was... 'Silent Hill: Revelation' is not worth the full price of admission... The film does end in a cool way that pays tribute to the games and sets up potential sequels. But it's too bad the whole thing just felt like empty fan service. Pleasing the fanbase is always welcome, but that doesn't mean they will put up with a poor and hasty story just for some visual delights and homages that only they are privy to amongst the other members of the audience.

What a shame... we could've really had something great here...