Films adapted from video games tend to land a few miles short of expectations, and the lower the expectations, the shorter the flight it seems. Silent Hill: Revelations' attempt to ensnare what audience was still interested after the first film turned out to be no exception to the established precedent. While, with this series of features, we here at Darkstation have given qualification for what exactly contributes to the failings these films; we've yet to ask the question primarily missed when discussing this subject - "Why?". Why don't video game films work?
In an earlier entry to this feature, in which my colleague Rom discussed the first Silent Hill film, the thought provoking question revolving what a video game film should be was raised. Should these entries in a mythos attempt to extend or retell the all ready established fiction, or stand aside as a separate installment into the lore? While I personally hold my vote for the second, the Silent Hill films largely focus on the first. Poorly stitching together the memorable pieces of a franchise that spans over a hundred game-play hours into two, hour and a half long films does very little to serve their purpose. Yet, what was the goal of these two films? What is the goal of any film based on a video game franchise? Stated plainly, the purpose of any of these films stands to convey the tone and appeal set by the original work into a new medium. In the case of Silent Hill: Revelations, all of the necessary ingredients to do so are available; yet, still the film fails. Thus, again, I ask: why don't these movies work?
Silent Hill: Revelations kick starts with an extremely decisive dream sequence (sadly, describing how would spoil what little plot this film has. So, I'll only go so far as to say two things. Firstly, it involves a carnival, because those aren't nearly displayed enough in horror. And secondly, the experiences in the dream will ultimately save the day). After the dream-dash through dream Silent Hill, audiences find young Alessa (Adelaide Clemens) all grown up and constantly on the move with her father, Harry (Sean Bean). Having adopted a new name, as Heather Mason, to suit her new home, Alessa travels quickly into the expository "getting ready for the new school and new life" segment of the film. After a quick word of encouragement from her father, it is off to school. Some of the best moments of the film circle around Alessa's attempted merge with the normal world, as fairly regular slips between reality and Silent Hill reality haunt her every step. These shifts between reality and the twisted, malformed paranormal seamlessly cycle from one another until both Alessa and the audience are unable to determine any difference in the two. This well executed demonstration of one of the franchise's more keen facets is overshadowed, however, by the film's inability to pace itself properly. In what felt like an incredibly short amount of time, all of the before mentioned running around happens along side the introduction of another new student in town, Vincent. This cliche, cool in the Smashing Pumpkins kind of way, fellow finds himself highly interested, and soon highly involved with Alessa's constant plight with the darkness. During Vincent's rushed, awkward introduction, a private investigator is also introduced solely for the purpose of revealing that the film does indeed have a plot - finally. Putting it slightly less vaguely than the private investigator did before exiting stage left, a cult residing in Silent Hill is quickly stitching together a plan to lure Alessa back to Silent Hill; as that will, for reasons unknown, release them from the darkness there. Not ten minutes later, Alessa learns of her father's kidnapping by this mysterious and ill-explained cult - and so the journey to Silent Hill begins.
What soon follows the rushed entry to Silent Hill, is Revelations quickly dropping the ball it had been fumbling with all along. The Silent Hill franchise, namely the two first installments, stand as the industry's hallmark for effective atmosphere - no matter how clunky the gameplay was. The film, sadly, failed to grasp how to recapture the atmosphere presented in the games. Plainly stated, atmosphere consists of much more than simply how sinister and mangled the creatures look, or how moody the town's fog is. Atmosphere in any instance where it is effectively implemented, is the calculated perpetuation of the intended tone. A menagerie of stark contrasts and searing comparisons between normal, well meaning nature of reality and the tainted, false world that is Silent Hill has adequately instilled a sense of desolation in the games. At times, this same formula breathes some life into the film. On the whole, however, the opportunity to fill the world with consistently horrifying, chilling tone is abandoned for a brooding, unexplained moodiness that leaves the world feeling entirely empty.
Silent Hill's strength in atmosphere comes, primarily, from immersion. Taking players out of their living rooms and shoving them, whole heartedly, into a tortured, disemboweled world they don't understand has worked for horror games time and time again. But fairly, placing such weight on the world's effect on players is a trait unique to video games. There will always be a tonal difference between watching a character on screen taking steps down a narrow, sparsely lit corridor waiting for the next horror to reach from every shadow; and taking those steps yourself. The key, then, is determining what about the world draws players into it. Immersion in film is far from impossible, it must simply be approached differently. Exploration is a large part of the Silent Hill games; and while the exploration of the town still holds a - quite small, over all - role in the film, the purpose behind that exploration is absent. The first Silent Hill film did a decent enough job rooting, and to an extent answering, the question "Why does this place exist as it does?". Silent Hill: Revelations, however does absolutely nothing to expand that world or answer any other questions. Instead, audiences will follow Alessa on an entirely misconstrued journey around the town meeting all of the fan favorites like Pyramid Head and the always bone, chilling creepy nurses. Problems with that approach aside, nothing is added to the knowledge of the world - or even the plot. So, without the purpose of discovering the secrets behind Silent Hill, the journey through the town -and the town itself - feels hollow.
Which brings us right back to the largest failing of Silent Hill: Revelations, a complete lack of focus. After a rushed plot introduction leading back to Silent Hill, the film's pace trickles nearly to a stand still. The film's progress does not halt for lack of trying, mind you. It simply tries too many things, and refuses to stick to any one for very long. Alessa's discombobulated trek through Silent Hill in search of her father, much like the rest of the film, feels both extremely pointless and frustratingly coincidental. Rather than choose one, narrower plot to follow and explore thoroughly - allowing for some level of resonance with not only the characters but particular facets and locations in the world - Silent Hill: Revelations takes the side-show-line-up approach. Alessa's travel through the mangled underbelly of Silent Hill, in a path just ridiculous enough to give all of the franchise's favorite tropes some screen time, does little more than extend the run time. As a result, once the film manages to remember where the plot was, it sprints through to the end much as it rushed through the beginning.
Silent Hill: Revelations had all off the ingredients needed to produce an addition to the founding fiction that could easily stand on its own merit. However, the film fell into the trap ensnaring many adaptation films (and the Silent Hill game franchise lately); the inability to determine that the fan-service they end up exercising does not serve any fans of the series, or draw new ones. Open world games place high value on how well their world is "fleshed out". An open world movie, based on an open world game, should take some stock in attempting the same. Choosing one legitimate plot, delving as deeply into it as possible and expanding the world not only lends to a more successful, enjoyable film; but, allows for future films in the franchise to have legs to stand on. To answer my own question, I do not know why these films do not work. By all rights, Silent Hill: Revelations should have been the one that did. The sad truth, however, is that it did not.