There are few film genres more maligned than the dreaded video game genre. Hollywood keeps pumping out more and more adaptations, and it’s rare that any of them are worth the price of a ticket. There are two notable (and admittedly contested) exceptions: The enjoyable bit of zombie eye candy Resident Evil, and 2006’s Silent Hill. The original Silent Hill, based on the Konami survival horror games, was a far from perfect film, but it gained popularity thanks to some truly gorgeous visuals courtesy of director Christophe Gans, an intense and dread-laden atmosphere, and some solid performances from Radha Mitchell and Laurie Holden.
Which of course led to a sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation. The sequel is off to a bad start before the reel even starts to roll — gone is the original director, Christophe Gans, a man renowned for his ability to disturb and terrify audiences, even if his skills are uneven. He is replaced by Michael J. Bassett, ignominiously known for directing the abysmally dull Solomon Kane. Gone also is Laurie Holden, who (spoiler!) died in the original, and Radha Mitchell, who is in the sequel for roughly 90 seconds. Returning is Sean Bean as the hapless and distraught Harry, who is desperately trying to keep his now-grown daughter Sharon (Adelaide Clemens) from becoming ensnared in the nightmarish pull of the town of Silent Hill.
So we’re left with Harry and Sharon, moving from town to town, never settling, as Sharon is plagued by nightmares where she is incinerated by the sinister Alessa, the terrifying young girl from the first film. Sharon avoids the other kids at school, though is eventually worn down by the charming and persistent Vincent (Kit Harrington, featuring an extremely dodgy American accent). After several twisted, grotesque visions one day, Harry disappears and Sharon and Vincent are drawn back to Silent Hill to find the answers to Harry’s disappearance as well as Sharon’s mysterious past.
The rest of the story is boilerplate video game gobbledygook. I don’t mean that as a knock on video games per se, but rather on the lazy plotting and garbled mythologies that lesser games become dependent on. The film is an utterly tiresome and uninteresting exercise, lacking everything that made the first film remotely engaging. The story is sluggish at best — Sharon is magically connected to Silent Hill and to the powerful and demonic Alessa, yet there’s no mystery to the entire affair. Thanks to a shameful, ham-fisted exposition dump during their drive to the town, we learn almost everything we need to know about Sharon and her connection to Alessa save for one critical piece of information — that we learn in another badly scripted dump roughly 15 minutes later thanks to an encounter with Dahlia (Deborah Kara Unger), Alessa’s wraithlike weirdo mother.
It’s not helped by the fact that the actors are all underperforming to the best of their abilities. Bean’s accent is all over the map and his beleaguered dad is utterly lacking in appeal or sympathy. The earnestness and fiery emotion that makes Harrington so riveting in “Game of Thrones” is undone by a constantly rotating series of vacuous expressions and leaden line delivery. Adelaide Clemens has the look of Sharon nailed, but her performance is so trite and eyeroll-inducing that her spiffy costuming isn’t worth a damn. The best I can offer is that Carrie Ann-Moss’s Claudia, the eeeeevil leader of Silent Hill’s pagan dullards, seems to be reveling in her eeeeevilness and may well be the only person enjoying themselves. Oh, and Malcolm McDowell’s manic, lunatic three-minute paycheck performance that he probably wasn’t even conscious for.
That said, even the best actors in the world couldn’t salvage what is some truly awful writing and dialogue that is, unbelievably, far worse than that of the video game — or any video game. Seriously, Bassett also wrote the screenplay and he apparently just set the Cliche-O-Meter 5000 to “horror movie,” hit Print, and moved on to special effects.
Speaking of effects… well, they’re there. In fact, they’re all there is. The first Silent Hill used disturbing imagery intermittently alongside intricate set pieces and ghostly, atmospheric cinematography, thereby giving it more punch. Taking no lessons from that, Bassett bombards the viewer with CGI nasties and set pieces so much that they lose their effect after about 15 minutes. What made the original — and the games — so effective was the juxtaposition of these awful, bizarre monstrosities against the real world, creating a disparate dichotomy that made the visuals that much more striking. Bassett opts to make Silent Hill a nonstop parade of poorly rendered grotesquerie, never pausing to give any kind of frame of reference, and instead of creating any sense of mood or atmosphere, he lamely settles for excessive CGI, a preponderance of jump scares and 3D effects that… well, the best I can say about the 3D is that it’s not distracting. Damn faint praise, I know. When coupled with the stolid, suffocating plotting and the hideously bland dialogue, the film simply has nowhere to go.
Silent Hill was a solid, if not-too-memorable little film that featured some enjoyable characters, a genuinely unsettling ambiance and an overwhelming sense of dread. Unfortunately, Silent Hill: Revelation did the very opposite, giving us bland, unexciting characters, overbearing and underwhelming set pieces, and in the end is just plain dreadful.