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4.0 out of 5 stars Wicked fun but flawed, Silent Hill meets Hellraiser 2., 6 April 2013
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This review is from: Silent Hill: Revelation [DVD] (DVD)
I'm such a Silent Hill nerd. I've played every one of the games and must have watched the first movie 20 times by now. I can analyse the psychology behind each of the games and sound kinda like I know what I'm talking about and I'm a little obsessed with the minute details. That being said, I'm probably one of the few who can actually call themselves a FAN of the series, since I still enjoy it very much, American, Japanese or otherwise.

See, there's a little bit of a rift in Silent Hill. The original four games, the first on the PlayStation and the rest on the PS2, were culty Japanese creations, but after the original team disbanded and the series started to find more mainstream popularity, Silent Hill left Japan and started enlisting talent from the west, making a couple of stops in the UK, one in the Czech Republic and a couple in the US, and along with this there comes the expanding of the series to be more accessible to the now wider audience. The problem is, like many franchises which expand to please a larger audience, a schism is created between those who were touched by the subtleties of the pre-"selling out" era and those who joined the fandom due to the now more accessible franchise. One half are dying for the series to return to being a more subtle affair taking most of its cues from Japanese horror tropes which are much more alien to us, whilst the other half would rather keep the more accessible and thrilling side of things.

Things will make a little more sense if I give a very brief outline of the series' history. Silent Hill on the PS1 was a Japanese attempt at American horror, resulting in something quite unique. The story involved demonic cults, living nightmares and lovecraftian demons, a "thrill ride through hell" as Revelation's TV spots described it, but with a surreal weirdness resulting from the Japanese tropes which were so alien to us. Silent Hill 2 on the other hand took the setting and turned it into a nondescript purgatory from which a very personal story could be told, in fact a story deeper and more moving than we'd seen in video games before, mostly. Ironically whilst the second game is the fan favourite these days, at the time it met with backlash due to being too different from the first, so the third game went back to basics, trying to take one or two of the things learned from this detour with it, and acted as a direct sequel to the original game. Naturally this was the entry chosen to be adapted for the movie sequel.

Here's where things get a little fuzzy. See, although Silent Hill went 'back to basics' for the next few series entries, later on a more mature fanbase wanted more of what Silent Hill 2 had to offer, the emotional and personal stories. After the polarising Silent Hill 4: The Room, Silent Hill left Japan and was resurrected by several different studios in different ways, some going the route of Silent Hill 1/3 but bigger and "better" and more universal (Silent Hill Homecoming in particular), some split off from the demon/cult stuff and told personal stories like the second game, and some of these even tried to do both at once, attempting to bridge the Lovecraftian cults and demons with the subtle psychodrama, which... usually works about as well as it sounds like it would.

About the same time the series left Japan, the first movie came out, which actually did a bloody good job of telling the first game's story in a smaller and more relatable way, swapping evil demonic cults for witch-burning extremists, bringing up new questions about personal faith, family vs. god and sacrifice, making things a lot more close to home. Not all fans were happy, as it borrowed many of the more iconic images from Silent Hill 2, such as Pyramid Head and the nurse creatures, which are said to be figments of one man's imagination (so to speak... look up Silent Hill 2 to learn more), and worked them into the original game's more fantastical, less profound story, but these iconic images helped to shape the movie and make it as memorable as it was. A little bit of a 'best of' Silent Hill, telling the story of the original game with a melancholy tone more akin to the second, with bits and bobs from the third and forth in there as well.

A good six years later they finally got the sequel made and released, by the awesome Michael J. Bassett, who brought us the stunning Deathwatch, the badass Solomon Kane, and the intense Wilderness, and it shows perhaps a deeper understanding of the Silent Hill series than the first movie did, but this isn't always a good thing.

Silent Hill Revelation follows Sharon, the little girl from the first film (go and watch it if you haven't, if I try to fill you in on that one as well, this review will go on for even longer than it already has... a problem I believe this sequel suffered from actually... more on that later), now 18 years old and going by the pseudonym Heather, and her father, named Chris in the original, now calling himself Harry, as they constantly relocate and rename themselves to try and keep Silent Hill's evil cult off of their heels. It's not long before Harry is captured and Heather makes her way back into the hellish nightmare town, aided by love interest Vincent, to try and rescue him.

Why were the cult still following Chris and Sharon after so long, and why do they want them back in Silent Hill? Well, you won't have to worry, Revelations is VERY keen on answering EVERY LAST ONE of your questions.

A little too keen.

See, Bassett, from the beginning, has expressed his intent on bringing the movies closer to the games, and in making this sequel an accessible movie to game fans, fans of the first film, and newcomers. To achieve this, the film goes all out to try and fill us in on the first movie AND the details from the video game universe that the first film intentionally left out or changed, as well as explaining away any contradictions between this film's more faithful version of the Silent Hill lore and that of the first film. In 90 minutes. To its credit, it leaves next to no questions unanswered, but the unwelcome side effect is that in a story known for its good character development, entire characters end up being devoted to exposition dumping. Heather's love interest, Vincent, starts off quite interesting but quickly deteriorates into acting almost as a narrator, one particular scene in a motel room has Heather asking questions and Vincent answering each one in detail, the Silent Hill Revelation tour guide. Before you can ask "but what about-" Vincent has answered it. The rule is usually "show, don't tell", but in this case I'd have preferred neither, to have kept the lore simple like the first film did and have instead given Vincent more to do as a character in his already short screen time. What's worse, there are other characters who exist just for this purpose too. Dahlia, a character from the first film, returns for one scene, in which she basically recaps Heather's origin from the first film and then tells her to run, and another character from the third game appears to give an exposition dump and then get slaughtered by a monster.

Characters, locales and monsters pop into the story and then are forgotten again, making this adventure more of a linear of string of fascinating events than something which turns back on itself like the original. The original movie I used to describe to people unfamiliar with the games as "a horror Alice in Wonderland". This one I would is a horror "Labyrinth" (heck, Malcolm McDowell even looks kinda like Hoggle these days).

Slaughtered by a monster, eh? Yep, there is plenty of death and gore in this one. Some didn't find the gore appropriate at the end of the first movie, but I say death is important in a good horror film. It's not like the original video games were without gore (in fact, the one this movie adapts had many very gruesome moments), and sometimes, up until the blood-soaked finale, the first film's monsters seemed to carry the threat that they might BE WEIRD NEAR TO YOU. Not the case here. Characters are offed in bloody and violent ways by the monsters and, while fans of the quiet subtlety of the second game, it actually adds a new layer to the monsters, making them a genuine threat by depicting their hostility before working on the tension. One scene in particular, involving the nurse creatures from the first movie, takes on a whole new level of tension when you've seen the violence these things are capable of. Silent Hill Revelation's monsters clearly want you dead, and they're all the more scary for it.

There's also one entirely CG monster which, while some of the things going on around it aren't done in the most believable CG (it's a pretty low budget film after all), is a sight to behold. I've never had a computer generated creature freak me out like this. Generally my rule is that practical monsters are scarier due to attributes such as weight and the uncanny valley effect, but this thing was quite terrifying, especially in 3D. I'd go as far as to say it was the highlight of the movie, up until the finale, which polarised fans just about as far as you can (hint: I loved it).

I'd love to comment on the actors' performances, but sadly due to the short runtime and complex story, a lot of them are gone before they've had a moment. Malcolm McDowell has a scene, and he's as brilliant (albeit campy) as ever. Carrie-Anne Moss floats around doing her best wicked witch impersonation (to be fair, this character was just as stereotypical in the game), and Sean Bean (Harry/Chris) somehow got worse at doing an American accent (I'm British and even I can hear how off it is). Adelaide Clemens is a wonderful Heather, and Kit Harrington does a good job as Vincent, even if he does get his "Twilight" on a little too much.

So for all its ambition and the convoluted dialogue coming from the film trying to be too many different things at once, Silent Hill Revelation is pretty damn fun. I really did care for Heather and I got truly immersed in the world and its beautifully thick atmosphere. Seriously, those were some amazing sets and they don't get enough credit, the same goes for the lighting. For me, once you forgive my above gripes, Revelations pulled off the Silent Hill 1 thing perfectly, but Silent Hill has come so far since then as a game series. Perhaps now you can understand the need for my little micro-retrospective at the start of the review when I explain that whilst this movie adapts Silent Hill 1 and 3 near perfectly (all things considered), it doesn't come close to matching the maturity and depth that Silent Hill 2 and others brought to the series, and a lot of people will be disappointed by that.

If you're from the Silent Hill 2 crowd, looking for a David Lynch-esque multilayered psychological study of the darkness inside of all of us, you're going to despise this. If, however, you appreciate the other side of Silent Hill, the Lovecraftian adventures in a nightmare world, I say go for it. Silent Hill Revelation is a thrilling, engrossing, gorgeous horror thrill ride which does justice to the early roots of Silent Hill. It just doesn't match up to what Silent Hill has become in the mean time.
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