Silent Hill, the bizarre survival horror series from Konami, has a lot of great stories to tell. It's this nebulous concept of a place that never appears the exact same way twice. The town of Silent Hill changes to reflect the needs of the visitor even if those changes contradict what you knew about the series before. But the problem with Silent Hill, as a series, is that you can't really explain it. The inconsistencies in internal logic and rules keep any consistent analysis of the facts of Silent Hill out of reach. The best you can do is give a general concept of the series and describe some of the monsters in it. It's about the experience and mood more than the literal story.
In Silent Hill: Revelation, Harry (Sean Bean returning from the original Silent Hill film) and daughter Sharon (Adelaide Clemens, taking over the role originated by Jodelle Ferland) have moved again in an effort to stay one step ahead of Silent Hill. The town claimed Harry's wife Rose six years ago and now it wants Sharon back. Sharon is plagued by nightmares that beckon her to return. When her father is kidnapped by the cult that runs Silent Hill, Sharon has no choice but to bring new friend Vincent (Kit Harrington) with her to the town that has haunted her entire life.
Silent Hill: Revelation is one hour of a solid psychological horror film. For a change of pace, this is the last hour rather than first hour. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and screen adapter Laurent Hadida waste a lot of time trying to open up the Silent Hill universe to a wider audience. Characters engage in clunky debates over the nature of nightmare, reality, and Silent Hill itself. 20 minutes of exposition could have been cut from the beginning of the film and it would have worked so much better. You're bored senseless before you even really enter the town for the first time and that's a bad thing.
Once the action gets rolling in the nightmare town, Silent Hill: Revelation is solid. It is the perfect adaptation of the video game series because it doesn't directly adapt the winding narratives of the games. The locations, monsters, character design, and even motions (Sharon runs up stairs two at a time, just like the game characters) feel true to the style. It feels like Silent Hill and that's a great thing.
Silent Hill: Revelation has this disturbing beauty and dark psychological pulse that draws you in. It's all the more impressive for actually turning around the atrocious exposition from the first act into something thrilling and believable.
There are problems all over the place. The accents from Adelaide Clemens and Kit Harrington are terribly inconsistent. Harrington doesn't even seem to be trying to stay with a consistent American accent even though the Silent Hill universe has always been based in the USA. Clemens is much better, but can't quite get her mouth around an Americanized pronunciation of "Dad;" considering she spends the entire film crying out "Dayahead" every two minutes, that's a problem. It hurts the style of the film since Bassett pushed for a really affected style from the whole cast. Clemens and Harrington break that illusion in every scene.
The CGI looks worse than the original Playstation release of Silent Hill back in 1999. The practical effects are really strong. The monsters--the nurses, Pyramid Head, various ghouls and tormented souls--look real and elevate the film. Then the screen is covered in blood that looks like orange soda as cartoonish limbs are destroyed in every scare scene. The CGI is so bad that it's distracting.
Yet when Silent Hill: Revelation works, it works. There are action/horror sequences in this film that filled me with genuine terror. The conceptual changes that help to bridge the gaps between all the various Silent Hill permutations are strong. Shoot, Bassett actually manages to fix some of the more glaring problems with the original film without ret-conning that story to oblivion.
There are things that will probably turn off the die-hard Silent Hill fans--Vincent is and isn't the Vincent you think he should be based on his role, and other characters' distinctive traits are thrown away for narrative reasons. Yet, taken for what it is, Silent Hill: Revelation should be at least a fun diversion for a series fan. Once the story hits Silent Hill, it really feels just like the best of the game series.
Everyone else, though, should watch at their own discretion. The first act is geared toward someone with no knowledge of the games; then the film abandons any efforts to keep you in the loop with all sorts of Easter eggs and Silent Hill shorthand.
Silent Hill: Revelation is simultaneously too open and too insular. It's married too strongly to CGI but filled with incredible practical effects. It has a bizarre acting style that is consistent until it's not. It is a horror film of contradictions that is still strangely watchable if you accept that Silent Hill means never having to explain why or how.
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