The problem with movies based on video games (or movies that try to capture the video game experience) is that they always come across like watching someone else play a video game. These movies might have budget-pushing effects and plotlines that mimic the follow-the-clues narrative of most games, but they never succeed in bringing the viewer into a fantastical, wholly imagined world in quite the same way. “Silent Hill: Revelation,” based on a series of Japanese horror survival games about a spooky town filled with ghostly apparitions, is one step worse than most of these video game movies. It feels less like a game and more like what happens when you leave your PlayStation on and it becomes a kind of dim screensaver. If we had a controller in our hand, we would probably throw it at the screen.
“Silent Hill: Revelation” starts bafflingly, which actually is a pretty good tonal indication of what’s in store for the rest of the movie, as young Heather Mason (Australian actress Adelaide Clemens, who looks like an even-more-cherubic Michelle Williams) awakens from a series of violent nightmares. (They’re very tame but, since this is a 3D horror movie, feature computer-generated blood flung at the camera. They also owe a tremendous stylistic debt to Tobe Hooper’s vastly underrated freakshow “The Funhouse.”) She walks into the kitchen to talk to her adoring dad, played by Sean Bean, who was in the original film (we honestly assumed this was a full-on reboot), who gives her the rundown of her first day in a new school – she’s changed her name, can’t make friends, and has to stay alert. After all, there is an evil satanic cult that wants to bring her back to the aforementioned ghostly hollow of Silent Hill, for some nefarious purposes. Oh – and remember honey, safe sex!
The plot remains frustratingly vague and even more frustratingly stupid, and when Heather gets to school she distances herself from her classmates, though a doe-eyed boy named Vincent (Kit Harington, who plays Bean’s illegitimate son on “Game of Thrones,” his Winterfell-worthy beard cleanly shaved away) expresses interest. Heather is plagued, even at school, by these nightmarish visions, which come across like a bargain basement version of “Nightmare on Elm Street” (walls of the school peel away to reveal smoldering embers, etc.) When a private detective tries to contact her, he’s quickly dispatched by a monstrous demon that looks like a rejected boogeyman from Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser,” and it leads to a conversation between Vincent and Heather that actually includes the dialogue, “Do you think there’s a difference between dreams and reality?” Um, yes Heather. Yes I do. After Sean Bean is kidnapped by the aforementioned satanic cult, Heather is forced to return to Silent Hill to free him, confronting her fear (or is it destiny?), along with Vincent, who it turns out is also in the cult (or something). Silliness ensues.
Once she’s in Silent Hill, the spookiness is amped up, although nothing is ever actually scary. This is the kind of movie that tries to engineer a jump scare around a Pop Tart springing out of a toaster, and features characters spouting endlessly expositional dialogue about symbols and demons and god knows what else. Heather’s journey feels jarringly video game-like, with most of the middle section of the movie consisting of her walking through large, empty rooms. There are also a smattering of distracting cameo appearances from actors that should be in much, much better material – people like Malcolm McDowell, who for some reason they dressed in a mesh top that emphasizes his old man breasts; Radha Mitchell (a holdover from the first film); Deborah Kara Unger, essentially playing a crazy homeless person; and Carrie-Anne Moss, who looks like the evil elf from “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” The whole affair is artless and depressing.
“Silent Hill: Revelation” was directed by Michael J. Bassett, who also helmed the barely releasable “Solomon Kane,” and while he might have a great affinity for the video game, it certainly doesn’t come across here. In a video game, a character might be able to say something about a secret lair being located underneath “Silent Hill’s amusement park,” but while watching the movie, it’s hard not to think, “Oh, it’s good that this gateway to hell, filled with horrifying creatures, has its own theme park.” The first film, 2006’s “Silent Hill,” was written by “Pulp Fiction” co-author Roger Avary and directed by Christophe Gans, who helmed the French historical kung fu costume drama horror movie “Brotherhood of the Wolf” (a terrific movie that should have been a much bigger crossover hit here). That movie wasn’t exactly a classic, but there were some suitably eerie set pieces, and Gans’ direction oftentimes pushed things towards the uncomfortably surreal. The standout character from the original was, of course, Pyramidhead, a monster who, if we remember correctly, ripped a guy’s skin off like he was husking an ear of corn. It was awesome. There was also a harem of balletic, faceless nurses that moved in uncanny ways. Both of those characters are back for the sequel, but they feel forced and way more unconvincingly rubbery than they were the first time. Any attempt at nuance is gone, replaced by a need to have anonymous monstrosities stab characters in the face with giant blades while highlighting the film’s ghastly “shot in Edmonton” production aesthetic. If someone offers you a trip to Silent Hill, quickly decline. [F]