I used to go to an eatery in Midtown almost every single workday. I have a bubbly, friendly personality, so I often chat with the people who work in a store I frequent, especially if we can talk in Spanish. One particular woman was always very nice to me – super-kind, really. And we talked about movies a lot once she learned of this site.
One day, I strongly recommended that she check out Looper while it was still in theaters. The next time I saw her, she told me how much she loved Rian Johnson’s fine film and, and seeing how she had followed my suggestion, she gave me one of her own – to go see Silent Hill: Revelations. Today’s post is dedicated to this wonderful woman. I think she is back in her own home country now, so I can’t speak to her directly in any other way than this post.
There were two problems with her request: as much as I’d hate to have someone do what I say and then not return the favor, I have been burned by a lot of horror films that were made after, roughly, 1996. The other part was just awkward... I could hardly respond to her intent appreciation for SH:R by saying, “Yeah, I was offered the chance to watch this for free and interview the director, and because the prior 2006 movie got horrible ratings, I turned it down.” It would’ve been true, but would also have seemed dismissive; instead, I just agreed – and hoped it would come out on Netflix soon.
I am, however, someone who strives to be honorable and I will always repay a debt, obligation, or promise. So when this film did come out on Netflix, I made damn sure to watch it. And that brings us to the review.
Silent Hill: Revelations starts with a dream sequence that instantly informs us that the lead, Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) has serious problems, and that her dad, Harry (Sean Bean), is accustomed to her vivid, shouting-out-loud nightmares. It’s clear that they bounce from town to town because they’re running from some sort of threat. Soon after, we’re with Heather on her first day at a new high school, and we quickly understand that she wants to avoid attention and emotional attachments.
After all this introduction, the plot races ahead: Vincent (Kit Harrington), a classmate, tries to befriend the cute new girl; Heather rebuffs him at first, but finds herself listening and responding to him, anyway – and also has strong hallucinations straight out of her nightmares. She then arrives home to find her place ransacked and her father missing. In short order, Vincent is now involved, and they’re on the move after Heather tells him why her family has been hiding, and that whoever kidnapped her dad left a message demanding that she return to the town called Silent Hill.
In the end, I’m unhappy with myself for pre-judging SH:R. For one thing, any movie stands a chance of being good or bad. The cast, director, and budget is no guarantee. Whether prior films in a series were great or awful doesn’t matter – Godfather III and Naked Gun 33 & 1/3 were horrible follow-ups to excellent pictures; Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare, meanwhile, was a better film than the 5 aNoES sequels before it. And, despite its pedigree, today’s film actually had a lot of strengths.
Silent Hill: Revelations looks great. The cinematography is fine, and the special effects are excellent. Although a lot of recent horror pics fail to establish a good atmosphere or vibe, SH:R steadily makes you question everything and everyone, from the lead’s sanity to the intentions of almost every character. Despite these good qualities, I couldn’t really enjoy this as a horror film.
The main reasons for my lack of joy are simple. The biggest factor is that, very early on, we’re told that Heather is important and that the cult at the heart of all these problems needs her. This deflates a lot of the tension, since the movie spends a lot of time putting this same protagonist in immediate danger. If people around Heather were in constant danger - characters we know and care about - then the audience would be worried. And yet that seldom happens.
Similarly, if the demonic creatures that terrify Heather seemed to be untamed beasts, that would generate real scares because our heroine would face two threats – one human and controlled, the other wild and unpredictable. But this doesn’t happen, either. Instead, the frightening monsters seem to be under the direct control of the human antagonists. So we know that the humans won’t kill Heather, and we know that these scary monsters will threaten her, but won’t kill her right away. These aspects combine to rob the scare sequences of most of their actual scares.
Before long, the movie falls into a predictable pattern: Heather runs into something terrifying, is threatened, and then gets away. When people are on-screen with Heather Mason, they will probably get killed. Throughout it all, the lead comes out okay, and it only looks like it’s really over for her once or twice. At the same time, the people who are killed or in danger are late additions, so we have no reason to be emotionally–concerned for them. Especially after the first attack or two, there’s no real fear, even when Revelations uses great pacing, as well as visual and audio effects, to create inventive and genuinely-disturbing threats.
I may have chosen to miss this film in theaters, but I watched it twice on Netflix so I could discuss this picture intelligently and on actual experience instead of prejudiced opinions. Silent Hill: Revelations did not meet my somewhat stern standards for horror movies, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that it did do very well with what it had. The threats were memorable and looked appropriately-horrifying; the story followed a steady progression, with actors and a script that are decent, at the worst moments, and reasonably strong, at their best. More character development – and real scares – would’ve been a big blessing here.
For the experienced, discerning horror fan, SH:R is not a success. But that doesn’t mean that it’s lame, or a waste of time. Clemens, Harrington, and Bean – alongside solid actors like Carrie-Ann Moss, Malcolm McDowell, and Deborah Kara Unger – do fun, solid work here. McDowell deserves extra props for what may be his most insane cameo yet - hey, at least this time it's justifiable.
It’s just a shame that we don’t really care about anyone aside from Heather, that we know early on that she’s not gonna die, and that the demented, creative, well-designed visuals don’t live up to all this potential by scaring us out of our wits. They sure look like they should be able to do, but I won’t be overly-harsh on this pic for failing to meet my standards.