Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams, a highly accomplished and surprisingly sophisticated survival-horror video game from 2001, concerns a husband struggling to come to terms with the passing of his wife, and every creature, ghost, and demon encountered throughout the game’s nightmarish world is a direct manifestation of his private pain. By contrast, Silent Hill: Revelation, Michael J. Bassett’s dismal sequel to the franchise’s first film adaptation, culminates in a protracted wrestling match between a seven-foot bodybuilder with a steel pylon for a head and a slithery dame with a bear trap wrapped around her face. The emotional climax of Restless Dreams comes when James Sunderland bursts into the hotel suite where he delusionally expects his wife to be waiting for him, only to find an empty room and the cold, hard truth that she’s gone forever. Revelation‘s own emotional climax comes when a teenaged demon in Marilyn Manson makeup explodes into ashes while riding a flaming carousel. And while the game almost entirely forgoes an explanation of Silent Hill, leaving players to imagine it as a blank purgatorial space on which lost souls project their inner suffering, Revelation won’t shut the fuck up about the history of its titular town; the film’s dialogue is little more than ceaseless torrents of expository statements and declarations of intent. If nothing else, Revelation is exhaustive—and exhausting.
The exhaustion sets in early and is increasingly wearying: overlong reminders of the events of the first film, as well as additional catch-up information about the events which occurred between the first film and the second, segue into extended and entirely perfunctory conversations about character motivations and feelings, and this is all before any of the film’s titular revelations are laboriously disclosed. When the second act finally seems to be shifting into gear and the protagonists begin literally reading helpful plot information aloud from a journal, one wonders if narrative action will ever actually proceed from this groundwork. By the time one character reveals in a decrepit motel room that he is, in fact, “a child from the order” (or something), Revelation has completed its transformation from horror film to outright soap opera. Rarely does so much talking say so little: Even after 30-plus minutes of shocking pronouncements and sweeping exposition, no explanation has been offered for why we should care about any of these characters or anything that happens to them.
Revelation fundamentally misunderstands the appeal of its source material. When it’s finally ready to resemble a horror film, it borrows liberally from the art direction and creature designs of the Silent Hill games, including several monsters specific to Silent Hill 2 and a slew of sets from Silent Hill 3 (already the first game in the series to drift away from what made it special). But in the context of the film, what’s of course a striking and great-looking aesthetic isn’t grounded in anything more than a desire to rustle up some novel effects, and that emotional paucity shows. Demons which, in the context of the games, resonated because they were understood to be projections of a mind distraught by guilt and suffering, appear in Revelations for literally no reason except that they look interesting or scary, which is pretty flagrant misunderstanding of why they were scary in the first place.
Christophe Gans’s Silent Hill, though flawed, at least attempted to translate more from its source text than merely a seductive look or feel. Its comparatively simple first act remains a good example of how to apply the horror elements of the Silent Hill games to film with a degree of elegance and wit, and for a solid 35 minutes, it’s an atmospheric film about a mother whose deeply maternal desire to help her daughter inadvertently places her in danger, and the need for Radha Mitchell’s Rose to find her daughter when she goes missing provides a cogent and palatable, if somewhat slight, emotional basis from which the proceeding action can spring. (It also helps that the only men in the film are relegated quite conspicuously to the sidelines, reduced despite their bravado to the role of bit players; one of the film’s most interesting qualities is that it is, in a way, a feminist horror film.) Even the first creatures Rose encounters—small, childlike things shrieking like infants—have an obvious connection to her immediate, personal fears, which raises the emotional stakes considerably.
It’s only when the first film’s narrative more or less gives up on Rose’s inner turmoil, expanding to include a needless town history (replete with meaningless baddies, gruesome deaths, and buckets of gore), that the movie goes south, and it’s this dismal second half that Revelation takes as its basic model. Bassett, whose recent Solomon Kane suggested a director working in the hyperkinetic Paul W.S. Anderson mold, is clearly a poor fit for material that ought to be more contemplative than frenzied, and his flair is accordingly directed toward showy last-act set pieces and more blockbuster action with a capital A. Revelation trades the moody, satisfying first act of Silent Hill for one overloaded with talky exposition, and then goes on to trade its loud, cacophonous mess of a last act into an even more obtuse celebration of splatter and special effects. That, in short, is a disservice.