The success of the Silent Hill videogames, with nine releases since 1999 plus arcade and mobile versions, virtually guaranteed that it would be adapted for cinema. Set in the fog shrouded abandoned rural town of Silent Hill and its hellish alternate Otherworld, a realm akin to the work of Hieronymous Bosch, the mechanics of the game are a balance of exploration, puzzles, investigation and combat. With elements and motifs from the first four games, Silent Hill was released in 2006, written by Roger Avary and directed by Christopher Gans, capturing the atmosphere but with its own character and originality.
Despite critical ambivalence the movie reached the black hearts of the fans, grossing almost $100 million, and six years later writer/director Michael J Basset is taking us back with Silent Hill Revelation, even though the satisfying conclusion of Silent Hill did not require a sequel, certainly not one that requires a clumsy flashback to explain the discontinuity between the films, where Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) appears in a mirror to explain how sometime after the first film she used a stolen magic amulet to slip her daughter back to the real world. Now Christopher (Sean Bean) and his daughter Sharon (Adelaide Clemens) are living under the names Harry and Heather Mason, constantly on the move, hiding from the Silent Hill cultists. Heather is haunted by nightmares of the burning town she does not understand, and unknown to them the Order are already closing on them, intent on tricking Sharon back to Silent Hill.
The idea of Silent Hill is of a town filled with an evil force which manifests the dark thoughts, fears, sins and unconscious desires its inhabitants, giving unlimited possibilities for stories to tell; in the words of Dahlia Gillespie, whose daughter Alessa caused the town’s downfall, “there are many Silent Hills,” but Basset fails to show us the personal nightmare of his own Silent Hill, instead taking a shortcut and recreating the plot of the game Silent Hill 3, but while that was defined by the atmosphere of dread that fills the streets along with the ever falling ashes, without the participatory element of gaming, a film must find other means to create that essential engagement in order to succeed.
A feature of the Silent Hill games that would translate to a screen narrative is the investigation, clues to locate, riddles to solve, yet this aspect is almost entirely absent save for one scene of checking hospital records and locating a key, goals completed so easily it is apparent the game difficulty is set for novice. As if to emphasise this, four characters encountered by Sharon, including Dahlia and Malcolm McDowell in a rent-a-looney role, provide history lessons on the town and its fate simply for the asking, rendering Sharon a passive protagonist, her involvement in the progression of the barest hint of plot limited to being present while it happens around her.
In the first film, the leads – Mitchell, Bean, Laurie Holden and Alice Krige – were all adults, but here within the first reel we’ve said goodbye to both Sean Bean and Martin Donovan‘s private detective, and instead are in the company of that essential teenage demographic, though at 25, Kit Harington’s presence as fellow student at Sharon’s high school is as unconvincing as Adelaide Clemens’ performance throughout the film. While the conversion of Radha Mitchell from uncertain mother to warrior in the first film may have been abrupt, it was two more emotional states than Clemens manages here. With her father missing she is thrown into a strange world of dreams and demons, yet she expresses no fear, anxiety, concern or curiosity, ambling through scenes with a baffling lethargic indifference.
All the cast are hampered by the constant expeditionary nature of the dialogue; in video games, conversations are to summarise the goals of the next game level, but as the audience are not participating directly in the action of a film, they need to be drawn in with believable characters in natural conversation, yet that seems to be the opposite to the intention here, Sharon actually stating that she does not wish to get to know anyone, nor for anyone to know her, making her a cold protagonist for whom the audience have no empathy.
The real sets and locations are more interesting than the virtual backdrops against which too much of the film is set, and many of the obstacles are entirely imaginary and so lacking menace. A spider shaped monster made of mannequins is not frightening because it is not convincing, the viewer fully conscious that it has never existed outside a hard drive, and Alessa herself is a wholly artificial threat, looking more like a cartoon than a real person. The only two visually interesting creations are Pyramid Head and the faceless nurses, both holdovers from the first film given no development and less screen time here, no enhancement given to their innate horror by the pointless 3D that is wasted on amateur shocks like severed fingers flying out of the screen.
As the games have progressed, their quality has gradually diminished, and in that at least the films have successfully concentrated their essence, moving to the final nail in the coffin in two steps; if nothing else, the efficiency is to be admired.
Silent Hill Revelation is now on release in 2D and 3D