Video Game Adaptations: Silent Hill Revelation
I swore that I was never going to do another one of these after the misbegotten Mario Brothers adaptation sapped my will to live. However, when I saw Silent Hill 2 was announced, the sequel to arguably the only remotely successful adaptation, and that Solomon Kane director Michael J. Basset was helming, I resolved to not only watch it, but provide the review as a nice symmetrical bookend to this series- I started with the original so there’s a nice sense of order to finishing with the sequel. So, is this series going out with a bang or a whimper?
Contains strange pink rabbits and severe spoilers below.
Silent Hill 2 the game is not fit for the screen. It’s an inordinately complicated psychodrama, and much of the interpretation of the game is to do with the disturbance in the main character’s head and his struggle to come to terms with his guilt. It’s also got nothing at all to do with the original Silent Hill other than a shared location. Silent Hill 3, on the other hand, has far more potential for cinema, but more importantly is a direct sequel to the original featuring the same plot, same villain, and many recurring character. As such, I can see exactly why they chose this as the model for Revelation. It is also, and this is important for horror, probably the single nastiest game that I’ve ever seen with a climax that is truly, truly repugnant. I have to say, I was curious as to how they were going to handle this, frankly repellent, scene.
Meet Heather (Adele Clemens). Heather is a spiky and alienated teenage girl who is on the run with her father Harry (Sean Bean, still sporting a terrible American accent), and is plagued by nightmares of horrible monsters and Silent Hill. She thinks that it’s from the cops, but in reality, they’re hiding from the evil Silent Hill Cultists who are absolutely desperate to get Heather back to Silent Hill. Heather, it turns out, is Sharon all grown up, and Sharon is the “good” part of Alessa, vengeful demon of Silent Hill. The Cult needs her to reunite with Alessa so that they can kill her and thus escape Alessa’s curse, which seals them into the misbegotten hell that is Silent Hill.
On her first day in school, she tells her class to do one, and sort of makes friends with new transfer student Vincent (Game of Yawns’ insufferable Kit Harrington, sporting a much better American accent). She’s also stalked by shady Private Eye Douglas (Martin Donovan). Harry, in the meantime, is kidnapped, while Heather fends off a variety of angry monsters and mad cannibal types. Eventually, she picks up a sigil (stupid symbol thing straight from the game), and for reasons too dimwitted to go into returns to Silent Hill with Vincent to see his Grandfather Leonard (Malcolm McDowell slumming again) to unite the sigil, before a confrontation with Alessa and eventually a demented Claudia (Carrie Ann Moss), the lunatic cult leader.
Other shit happens on the way. But it’s mostly inconsequential stuff- above is the meat of the narrative, and it was damned hard to distill into something coherent, so be bloody grateful. The most important side encounters are with Dahlia (a returning Deborah Kara Unger) and Pyramid Head, who is revealed as Alessa’s Guardian.
*takes deep breath*
As an adaptation of the game, this is nigh on perfect. It hits all the major points from the game, and includes all the major sequences and images. It’s even got the same fucking structure with the dream of the pink rabbit populated amusement park from hell (actually, when you return to it, this is one of the most annoying pieces of any game of all time). They make some clever changes, notably to Vincent’s character (I am at a total loss as to what the fuck he was doing in the game), and significantly alter the climax so that Claudia doesn’t have to ingest Heather’s miscarried foetus to birth the demon god. As a knock on effect of this, it also means that the anger trigger to the darkness makes much more sense in the film than the game- it’s the dark side of Alessa in the film, but a kind of sub-par Star Wars knock off (anger feeds the dark side) in the game. Not all the changes are successful, but more on this in a minute.
Firstly, the casting is fucking perfect. Perfect. Clemens is a dead ringer for Heather, and I’ve no idea if she was the little girl in the original, but she looks highly credible as an “adult” Sharon. DKU was always the ace in the hole in the original, and is still note-perfect as Dahlia. Carrie Ann Moss, surprisingly, is also a dead ringer for Claudia (I didn’t see that coming), although the character is terribly underwritten, and Harrington and Donovan could have stepped straight from the game. McDowell is a far more expanded character, being little more than an end-of-level boss in the game, but it does make sense to enlarge his role. The acting, bar Bean, is so so, and I actually quite like Clemens in the lead. Plaudits go to Deborah Kara Unger’s damaged Dahlia, though. It’s a small role (as is Radha Mitchell’s returning Rose), but film stealing in its own way.
Adapting Silent Hill 3 to the screen was always going to be a massive challenge. As such, the dialogue is OK, and the writers (Michael J. Bassett and Laurent Hadida) bust a gut making sure that the film crams in as much from the game as it possibly can. In terms of direction, it’s totally over-directed (which is a shame), and there’s a LOT of terrible CGI work in there. On the plus side, though, almost all of the the key Silent Hill 3 imagery (notably the pink rabbits) makes it to the screen wholesale. They really did put in an inordinate amount of work making sure this was as faithful to the game as they possibly could.
And here’s where the problems lie, and boy there are lots and lots of problems. So many, in fact, that I’m even going to ignore the shitty “poke things at the screen” 3D nonsense that the film is riddled with. Feel free to insert the Werewolves on the Moon standard fuck off 3D disclaimer here, by the way, if you want. The first half of the film is a bonanza bundle of confusing and tedious exposition as Bassett attempts to jam in every single thing that you need to know for the second half of the film to make a lick of sense. Which it doesn’t by the way. I watched this with Mrs. Jarv, and it felt like we had to pause the bloody film every two minutes so I could explain to her, with reference to the game, what the fuck was going on. In all honesty, if I didn’t know the game backwards, I’d have been completely lost.
Watching this for me, armed with knowledge that most don’t have, became a bit wearying, in all honesty, as I eventually stopped really paying attention and started to play spot the reference. Including the penis-monster thing jumping out of the mannequin beast in the doll factory. I have no idea why they stuffed this monster in, as the best effect in the film was the transformation of girl to dummy that took place just before it, and it was jarring and rubbish CGI. I suppose it did jump at the camera, and was an end of level boss, but really, it’s totally needless.
The major challenge is one of time. Silent Hill 3 takes a minimum of 24 hours to complete totally. Silent Hill 2 the film has a run time of under 2 hours. The problem is that there’s an awful lot of information required to turn the story into something resembling coherence, as such, it’s an inordinately difficult task to compress this into 94 piddling little minutes. To make matters worse, they’re so intent on hitting every touch point in the game (the demon carousel with the bondage freaks is laughably shit) that the film devolves into a series of individual scenes. Or, in games terminology, cut scenes. I’ve already seen the fucking cut scenes, because I saw them in the game. I do not want to see them again.
Not only did they need to take more liberties with the game (not something I usually say), but the changes they made to make it palatable for the average viewer actually serve to add to the confusion. The joined sigil, for example, allows Heather to “see” the true form of people- i.e. Alessa’s Darkness world. This, while not a hideous idea, does require exposition to explain, and if there’s one thing this film did not need 60 minutes in, then that’s more exposition. The other attempted piece of cleverness is repositioning Pyramid Head from unstoppable killing machine into Alyessa’s guardian and pet executioner. Shit idea. Full stop. They only do it, because in the game when it enters the shadow world there’s a Demon in the background (forgotten his name) who manipulates levers and wheels and so forth- he’s meant to be operating the shadow world for Heather to navigate. Here, they make a nod to this by placing Pyramid Head at the controls of Satan’s merry go round. Not only is it a crap idea, but it’s also totally needless, and they only did it because of the presence of the Demon in the game.
The next problem that the film can’t get over is the subtext of the game. A lot of it is metaphorical “onset of sexuality” stuff, particularly in the imagery and the monsters she fights- yes, it’s all about the cock. The film approaches this “dark” sexuality in the most predictable and unimaginative way it could with the monsters being fetishised nurses, bondage freaks and so forth, while the main human baddies are gas-mask clad perverts called “The Brethren” (no idea where this honking idea came from). Given that it’s quite an ugly film, it doesn’t take long for Silent Hill Revelation to feel like a third rate Hellraiser Sequel (that’s all of them not called Hellbound), a problem exacerbated in the main monster design.
Then there’s the climax. Look, I totally understand why they didn’t go with the vomiting miscarriage thing. It’s minging. It makes absolute sense to co-opt Claudia and maker her into the effective End of Game Boss, as that’s sort of what happens in the game, except in a far more repugnant way. What doesn’t make sense is to pull some sort of ludicrous Scooby Doo reveal, and have her transform into the third rate cenobite that’s been plaguing Heather for the course of the film. It makes even less sense for Pyramid Head to get involved and duke it out with said Cenobite while Heather sits there and does feck all.
Finally, as I’m aware that I’ve got a bad dose of waffle-itis here, there’s the main character herself. I’m not sure why this was a good idea, but she’s reduced to a damsel in distress, and not a particularly interesting one. In the game, Heather was quite the little badass, but here she’s just not capable. She only kills one monster for fuck’s sake, choosing to run away or let others handle the rest (I’m not including overcoming Alessa on the merry go round). This, therefore, diminishes her and makes her a touch shrill, whiny and unlikable. She does look like she’s going to go all bad ass, by grabbing a pipe to smack a beast (doesn’t go through with it), or getting tooled up, but she never (Leonard excepted) makes the step that the likes of Ripley make- she doesn’t move to being a capable heroine. It’s a shame, actually, because it rips the heart clean out of the film.
Overall, if you’ve played and like the game, then you can get something out of this. Nevertheless, as a film, it’s pretty terrible. The flaws in the adaptation are too many and too insurmountable, and it’s an ugly film with an overabundance of poking shit at the screen. When you throw in the lousy CGI, crappy monster design and mountains of exposition, Silent Hill Revelation becomes an ugly and boring pain in the ass that’s nowhere near as good as either it’s source material or the (many) films it rips off. I do not recommend this one, and I’m going out on a low note. Silent Hill Revelation is, in fact, shite.
And the soundtrack blows when it isn’t using the Silent Hill theme.
Series over, and I have to say that it’s been emotional. If the emotion is pain and rage.