So close, within director Michael J. Bassett's grasp, did we come to seeing a substantial adaptation of one of Konami's more intriguing, psychologically twisted entries in the Silent Hill franchise. Memories of early set photos, coupled with a rough synopsis, fueled my interest going into Silent Hill: Revelation, triggering thoughts that they just might get this thing right -- or, at the very least, right enough. Decrepit carnival grounds and rusty corridors would play host to a familiar-named girl wearing an orange hood-shirt underneath a white jacket-vest, riding on the coattails of Christopher Gans' atmospheric and visually ensnaring rebirth, flawed as it may be. Unfortunately, what Bassett has crafted in Revelation speaks to a very narrow audience that'd even meagerly appreciate what's going on: those who dug what Gans' histrionic supernatural preface aimed to do, those familiar with the source, and those who'll tolerate egregious exposition, blatant departures, and limited scares to dig into the coarse, warped world. I kinda fall in that camp.
It's surprising that Bassett chose to adapt the established game so closely in the first place, given how Gans significantly retooled the series' elements into a distinct, detached entry point to the harrowing purgatory of Silent Hill. Instead, after the French director and writer Roger Avary pulled out of the sequel, he worked to mold this specific story into a direct follow-up that would cohesively mesh with the original film. Centering on Heather Mason, the adopted daughter of Harry (Sean Bean) who's suitably embodied by Adelaide Clemens, it chronicles how she's spent her life on the run, which plays into the nightmares that have been escalating in her sleep-state since childhood. They allude to that fog-covered town known as Silent Hill, a place of demons, torment, and disheartening gore, which seems to be beckoning Heather. As time passes, those dreams start to permeate in her awake state, and once her father disappears, she's forced to confront their meaning by returning to the town -- with the help of Vincent (Kit Harington, Game of Thrones), an equally-new student at her school -- in order to find him.
Bassett's attempt to distinguish Revelation as a reverent continuation of the original film with a fan-service kick is commendable, but the inventiveness won't be observable -- or satisfying -- to everyone. Fans might relish how it amalgamates sources by finding ways to incorporate Gans' characters into the roles of Heather and Harry Mason, through forced narrative trickery and suspension of disbelief. From a cinematic standpoint, however, it's pretty unhealthy for the continuation of its even meager storyline; barriers between corporeal and metaphysical worlds are unconvincingly breached, while characters thought to be lost in the ghostly abyss return. Perhaps it might've gone down smoother had Bassett's writing not been laden with persistent, heavy exposition that tries remarkably hard to mask those leaps in the lore, becoming gradually more muddled as it progresses. The mood gets bogged down by explanation, and that's counterproductive to an atmosphere like Silent Hill's that relishes its own vagueness.
Atmosphere, after all, is the backbone to Silent Hill -- the mysterious, psychologically obfuscated realm of limbos and realities -- and it's an area where Revelation fires on all cylinders to replicate the series' strengths within the boundaries of a meager budget. Malls, schools, and hospitals dutifully transmute from sterile environments into a dilapidated maze of rust, flaking walls and eerie mannequins, after Heather navigates through the streets of the town's ashen upper-layer. Proverbial but ensnaring music from Jeff Danna, infused with the legendary work of Akira Yamaoka, bolsters the brooding energy through buzzing lights and twisted wires, bathed in acidic yellows and burnt-orange tones. Barrett uses the environment to cattle-prod the audience with few traditional jump-scares and gory oddities that'll make the fans grin, too, like the surprise appearance of a mannequin with a dead stare and the" true form" of a psychotic man in chains.
Silent Hill's attitude looms in this sequel, to a modest degree, but it's less of an ominous spooky atmosphere and more of a jittery, grind-saw furor.
The fact that neither its frights nor metaphysical chills strike the right chords keeps Revelation's potential locked up, though. Sure, sequences feature a black-eyed girl hurling spectral dust with sirens blaring in the background, as well as flesh slivered from a torso and arms lopped off thanks to our old pal Pyramid Head, but their execution feels more like trekking through a token haunted house than absorbing a consistent plunge into madness. Cameos from the series' regulars and new (familiar) faces do little to help that disjointed impression; the likes of Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Ann Moss, despite their expected gravitas, are wasted in their implementation as the seedy members of a cult populating Silent Hill's bowels. Heather might be descending into an oblique carnival of nightmarish flames, and those with some knowledge of "Silent Hill" might embrace the tone of the loose-end allegory, but it's bound to do little for those wanting to actually satisfy their inner horror hound.
Silent Hill: Revelation eventually closes in on a bit of a stalemate, between a desired outcome and what materializes on-screen. The urge to grasp onto what's here and relish a cinematic version of Silent Hill 3 is palpable; Clemens looks and acts the part well enough, while menacing lighting embraces her white jacket and spiked blonde hair as she navigates the mazes of oblique buildings with a flashlight and pistol. Even as the brooding energy drags her forward, though, and some of those ambiguous components that hallmark the franchise filter into the our vision through a grainy veil, director Barrett's perspective gets lost in convoluted plotting -- yes, even for an entry in this franchise -- that arrive at a dull, unchallenging climax that deviates from the grand guignol mindscrew at the game's end. It'd be reasonable to assume that preconceived expectations might be clouding that judgment, but honestly, it's that familiarity with Silent Hill's tenor that'll likely grant one enough tolerance to embrace the few triumphs that emerge from Revelation's dense fog.
Video and Audio:
Entering into the begrimed, foggy realm of Silent Hill goes hand-in-hand with obscuring shadows and hefty grain, which leans heavily in Revelation's favor when absorbing its visual tempo. In so many words, this 2.39:1-framed treatment appears about on-par with how it appeared at the theaters, which isn't exactly pretty: occasionally empty colors populate the opening "in reality" scenes, intense shadows swallow details during darker sequences, and a buzz of grain coats the dusty, rusted atmosphere of the "nightmare" sequences. With that in mind, Universal's high-definition treatment traverses the pale-blue haze and harsh textures with an adept focus on the details that are present, from flakes of ash to the minuscule caked-on bits of corrosion. Harsh yellow lighting remains potent but aware of the objects it's consuming, the curves and scales of a dead fish's bowl emphasize detail, and raging fire projects ample movement in a gust of reds and yellows. This is a moody, harsh treatment, and it works.
For the 5.1 Master Audio, I'm going to emphasize the sound of falling ash. Sure, there's a lot of clanging metal, sharp jolts from demons, raging fire and screams in the mix, and they all employ the breadth of the surround design with thick metallic sounds and fierce bass; most of it sounds robust, if occasionally flat and restrained. However, it's the sound of the stillness, of Jeff Danna's score, and of the light flakes of ash dropping all around Heather as she emerges into the upper part of the town for the first time that really catch one's attention. Subtle but pronounced effects make their presence known in the rear channels, creating an immersive effect that I found extremely engaging. Yeah, this is mostly a fierce, loud track, with a few hard gunshots and slams of Pyramid Head's sword, but at least it embraces those fine elements. This isn't of the same caliber as the demo-worthy PCM treatment from the original Silent Hill, but it's a solid and engaging representation of its ardent action-horror tendencies.
Nothing much, outside of a Theatrical Trailer (2:31, HD) and a very, very brief Look Inside Silent Hill: Revelation (3:05, HD) that features little more than press-kit cursory interviews with only a bit of insight from Michael J. Bassett. Disc Two, a DVD copy of the film, also includes these features.
Oh, how I wish Michael J. Bassett's latest Silent Hill film, as close to an adaptation of the third game of the franchise as we're likely to get, was a "revelation". The attitude, the production design, and a reputable Heather Mason in Adelaide Clemens are present and accounted for; the building blocks can be seen for a robust sequel to Christopher Gans' flawed but embraceable supernatural chiller, one that might tell Silent Hill 3's story. And those parts can be relished to a moderate degree, from Bassett's references to the series to the fierce, atmospheric visuals that energetically navigate through tangled wire, corrosion, eerie mannequins and sallow yellow-and-orange lighting. It's a shame, then, to see Silent Hill: Revelation reduced to somewhat ineffective, overly chatty horror-suspense that musters only a few jolts and bits of grotesque imagery worth gnawing on. It's certainly worth a Rental to check out the rough outline of Bassett's ideas, and a few creepy/grueling metaphysical expressions in the byzantine maze leading through the darker side of the ash-covered town. As a fan of the series, though, who has been known to close himself off in a dark room and work up a pale sweat late in the night by playing these games, it just stinks not to be able to appreciate it more.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site