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Movie Review: Running Up That Hill

By Johnny M

Movie Review: Running Up That Hill

October 26, 2012 at 10:19AM EDT

Silent Hill: Revelation sort of picks up where its predecessor left off and sort of ties the films in with the games. It only sort of succeeds (but it gets points for trying).

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR BOTH SILENT HILL FILMS…SORT OF…MAYBE…

Sharon Da Silva (Adelaide Clements) and her father Christopher (Sean Bean) have been on the run from mysterious forces for several years. Assuming the names Heather and Harry Mason, they try to start a new life in a new town. Sharon/Heather is unaware that several years prior, she and her mother Rose (Radha Mitchell) were led to the abandoned community of Silent Hill where they were caught up in dark, supernatural events, Sharon’s memory of the visit having been erased when she inexplicably returned home without Rose. As a result, Sharon doesn’t understand the constant nightmares she has referencing it.

Very quickly after establishing themselves in their new community, the forces hunting Sharon and Christopher appear. Sharon constantly sees visions of nightmarish locales and creatures, her reality seeming to shift back and forth between the real world and a twisted parody of it. When Christopher is kidnapped and a message left for Sharon reading “Go To Silent Hill,” she heads off to rescue her father with the mysterious Vincent (Kit Harington) at her side, unprepared for the darkness she must confront.

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Sugar, spice and everything from the depths of hell.

The first Silent Hill film wasn’t a direct adaptation of any one game in Konami’s survival horror franchise, but included elements from several games in the series, most heavily drawing from Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2. Like the Resident Evil films, it took those elements to establish its own story and mythology that was similar to, but distinct from, its source material. While plans for a sequel were announced very shortly after the film’s release, it took several years and a change of writer and director to come about. The sequel attempts to adapt the events of Silent Hill 3 while simultaneously joining them with the film’s universe, and while the result is visually appealing and effectively unsettling, it’s also a narrative mess as shambling and frightening as one of the titular community’s undead beasts.

The film’s unevenness is hard to explain or understand, in a way. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett‘s previous work was the surprisingly well-done and entertaining Solomon Kane, another quasi-adaptation of a previous work that had similarly brutal and graphic action sequences. Here, however, Bassett feels like he’s been compromised by the studio. Revelation is approximately 30 minutes shorter than the previous film, and while that in and of itself means little, it’s clear that a fair deal of connective tissue was cut or altered for the theatrical release. The fact that several events depicted in official photos never happen on screen definitively confirms it, even if the rushed and confusing third act doesn’t.

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Which way did the plot go?

What makes it to the screen, however, is striking enough to temporarily hide the film’s narrative flaws. If anything else, Bassett has a gift for visual flare and efficient use of his frame. He lacks the mix of sympathetic detachment and hypnotic visuals that previous director Christophe Gans brought, but he makes up for it with a more distinctive through line and fine control of movement and mood. He also displays a fantastic ability for effective use of 3D, beginning right with the opening titles where the falling ash from Silent Hill appears to almost envelop the theatre. Bassett also took over writing duties from the previous film’s Roger Avary, who was sidelined thanks to a conviction and prison term for vehicular manslaughter. Bassett puts an unfortunate amount of exposition into the film, whereas Avary left things purposefully unclear until the final act, but his characters still seem mostly organic and his protagonists sympathetic and dynamic.

Part of this exposition comes from the fact that this is both an adaptation of the third game and a continuation of the first film’s plot. Trying to merge the two would be difficult for the most talented of screenwriters, and Bassett simply isn’t able to completely pull it off, as courageously as he tries. A quasi-retcon of the film’s final events isn’t quite so bad, but trying to marry the plot of the film and the plot of the game simply doesn’t work. Bassett has to add too much expository material and stretch continuity far too thin to make it happen, and the whole film ends up suffering a little for it. Revelation‘s plot is fine on its own, but it makes little sense as a continuation of what came before. A better idea would have been to make an entirely new film, similar to how the events of the 2nd and 4th games in the series have very little to do with each other or the events of the 1st and 3rd games.

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We are going to make you look TERRIFIC!

Bassett does, however, maintain the previous film’s sense of morbid, nightmarish dread. Revelation is never outright, jump-cut scary but is instead full of unsettling and disturbing visuals that more easily sink into the viewer’s subconscious. A jump scare is like a piece of candy, a sugar rush that spikes high and fades quickly, but the fear here is of a more primal variety, a fear birthed from and fueled with humanity’s own sins and failings. It’s the world turning against you. When the real world gives way to the “Otherworld” hell of Silent Hill, walls melt away like rotting flesh, while transitions between the purgatorial “Fog World” and Otherworld make it seem like the world around the characters is burning away, leaving only a mockery of what we know. An abandoned warehouse full of discarded department store mannequins is creepy enough on its own, but when a spider-like creature composed of mannequin parts made from actual humans (including active, expressive heads) is added, it becomes terrifying, especially when combined with the tense, dramatic score by Jeff Danna and game series composer Akira Yamaoka.

Adding to that fear is the fact that aside from the mannequin monster, the horrific creatures of Silent Hill are all played by actual people and not created through CGI. In the first film, movement director Roberto Campanella hired dancers and contortionists to play the undead, people who were able to move in unnatural ways. Campanella himself played the series’ iconic bogeyman Pyramid Head, and he returns in the role here, an intimidating figure whose menace comes purely from visual cues like his jerky, tortured movements or the methodical but somehow passionate swing of his massive sword. The series’ other staple, the undead nurses, also return and possess the same fearful tactility as before. When they are at rest, they are not stock still like statues. Close ups reveal them slightly trembling, as if constantly struggling to maintain their pose in a kind of Sisyphean punishment.

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After 90 days on the P90X system. Results not typical.

With the focus so much on visuals, it’s easy to forget about the actors involved, many of whom do a commendable job. Adelaide Clements is a good lead, making Heather/Sharon a very sympathetic and believable character. She lacks the easy magnetism of the previous lead, which is understandable as Heather’s only 17 years old, but she puts in a dynamic, committed performance. Sean Bean is charming and equally devoted to his part, never seeming like he’s doing this just for a mortgage payment. Plus, really, who wouldn’t want to have a dad that looks, talks and acts like Sean Bean? Kit Harington isn’t quite as believable as a teenager (despite being in his early 20’s) but he has good chemistry with Clements and is adorable enough to overlook some of his faults.

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Safe in the arms of the Mighty Bean.

The supporting roles, however, tend to falter, and many of them seem like they were a victim of the afore-mentioned editing and restructuring. Most striking is Carrie-Anne Moss as Silent Hill’s cult leader du jour Claudia Wolf. Try as she might, Moss can’t quite summon up the barely-disguised menace that Alice Kirge did as Christabella in the first film. Claudia also looks exactly like a cult leader villainess should, sleek and gothic, as opposed to Christabella’s pilgrim chic, which dulls the character’s impact. Deborah Kara Unger returns as Dahlia Gillespie, but she’s wasted in what amounts to an extended cameo that only serves to fill in Heather/Sharon on the previous film’s plot. Finally, Malcolm McDowell shows up in the Malcolm McDowell role, playing someone who’s gone mad and blind from toying with the unholy forces beyond mortal understanding. Again. Shocking, isn’t it?

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Haute couture for the fashion-conscious fanatic.

Fans of the series and/or the first film will find Revelation‘s narrative failings easier to overlook, even while trying to make sense of how to connect them in a meaningful way. A fair amount of fanwanking is likely to be involved, and everyone’s mileage may vary. New viewers are easily brought up to speed and have the luxury of not worrying as much about canon issues. The visuals, lead performances and overall atmosphere make it all easier to go down, however, and while not as compelling or striking as the first film, Revelation is a worthy bearer of the Silent Hill name. It’s a mesmerizing display of human grotesquerie like Hieronymous Bosch filtered through Clive Barker, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Rating: 7 out of 10 / B

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and bears the Mark of the Muscle Mary. image

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