SAN DIEGO - How's this for damning with faint praise: "Silent Hill" is the greatest film adaptation of a video game ever made.
Ok fine, so I haven't actually seen every single video game adaptation ever made. But really, consider the competition.
No, "Silent Hill" is not a perfect film. But speaking as someone who has actually played the games, it captures their tone quite brilliantly, and it's anchored by a solid lead performance from the woefully underrated Radha Mitchell. Not to mention that amidst all the grisly sights on offer, it's also an extraordinarily beautiful film to look at.
So it's too bad, then, that original director Christophe Gans ("Brotherhood of the Wolf") pulled out of the sequel during development, and that Mitchell is featured less prominently this time around. Instead, British helmer Michael J. Bassett (who received a surprising amount of acclaim for his 2010 "Solomon Kane" adaptation) has taken the reins, with relative newcomer Adelaide Clemens stepping into the role of lead protagonist.
Titled "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D," the follow-up enjoyed its first public presentation at San Diego Comic-Con over the weekend, with Bassett, Clemens and producer Samuel Candida (who also shepherded the first movie) on hand to answer questions from a packed audience in the Convention Center's massive Hall H.
The presentation opened with a pair of 3D clips from the film. The first, a skin-crawling bit of creature-centric horror, featured Clemens' character (Heather Mason, the teenage heroine of the third game) freeing another woman from the web of a monstrous spider-like creature made up of an eerie collection of "mannequin" parts. As the girls flee, the creature gives chase - but not before climbing atop yet another "mannequin" and ripping off its head to add yet another trophy to its stockpile.
The second clip, which you can view above, also features Clemens as rescuer - this time of a gurney-strapped man who is saved from certain death at the hands of the knife-wielding nurses seen in the first film (and, of course, in the games).
"Those are PG-13 clips because we could find virtually nothing else which wasn't R-rated to show you," explained Bassett to several hoots from the crowd. "There's a lot of 'Hobbit' fans out there, [and] we don't want to scare you guys too much." And then, with a distinct glint in his eye: "The front end of that nurses scene will really fuck you up."
Like the first movie, the sequel will boast largely practical effects - at least according to Bassett - with the sole major exception being the spidery "mannequin monster" seen earlier.
"That's...pretty much the only monster we couldn't make for real on the set and operate like a puppet or a man in a costume," said the director. "I'm a big believer in real monsters on the set. But sometimes when you've got something really sophisticated or complex - I mean we played with puppetry, we tried to get all that stuff. But...that particular monster was impossible, and I really wanted it to move and scuttle like a...confluence of human body parts and a crab and a spider, and then after that clip finishes it does something else pretty hideous as well."
Speaking of the "mannequin monster" - which I found to be a compellingly nightmarish creation despite its CG rendering and, it should be said, my mournful lack of 3D glasses - the description isn't an entirely accurate one. Based on Bassett's teasing, at least, the term "human monster" is probably a better fit.
"This is the thing that makes the mannequins," said the director [emphasis mine]. "So that whole business of ripping the head off...you'll understand why that's particularly horrible when you see the movie. Cause that didn't start as a mannequin."
In case you were wondering, the creature just described was not, in fact, featured in the games - at least not in that specific form. It does, however, represent a somewhat more intricate version of the lethal "sewing dummies" featured in the second installment. And yet despite that nod to the gaming series' acclaimed sophomore effort, "Revelation" actually takes its main storyline from the third game in the franchise.
"It's an adaptation of that game," said Bassett, before hastening to add: "If none of you have ever seen 'Silent Hill' before, this also works as a standalone movie. So it's basically, it's a sequel, it's an adaptation and it's its own movie in its own right. ...What it does do is it takes the story of little Sharon Da Silva [the little girl from the first film] and turns her into Heather Mason for reasons that you'll understand when you see the movie."
Along with Mitchell, other returning cast members include Deborah Kara Unger (reprising her role as the grieving Dahlia Gillespie) and Sean Bean, who is back as Christopher Da Silva, husband of Rose (Mitchell) and father of Sharon (played by Jodelle Ferland in the first film), both of whom were doomed to wander a sort of existential limbo at the end of the first movie. Along with Kit Harington (who plays the role of Vincent), that makes Bean one of two "Game of Thrones" cast members to have a part in the sequel.
"We got some Jon Snow!" cried Bassett at one point, catering to the obvious assemblage of "Game of Thrones" fans in the audience. Which of course (?) begs the question: will "Revelation" provide extra material for the "Sean Bean death reel" that's become a viral favorite online?
"Have you seen that YouTube clip?" inquired Bassett, spurred on by an audience member who had just made reference to the video during the panel's Q&A portion. Those in the know whooped and hollered.
"Ok now, 'yes and no' is the answer," he continued on the potential for another addition to the Sean Bean kill reel. "And you're gonna have to see the movie to understand...why that is a completely true answer. But will there be something to add to that fantastic clip online? Very possibly, but not in a way you expect."
Unlike, say, the "Resident Evil" franchise, what sets "Silent Hill" apart from other games in the "survival horror" sub-genre is the fact that the monsters on screen aren't merely physical beings but manifestations of the featured characters' collective unconscious. It was an element exploited quite effectively by Gans in the first film, and Bassett (who also wrote "Revelation"'s screenplay) promised the crowd that every attempt had been made to continue that tradition in the follow-up.
"I wrote the script looking at the game, and trying to understand how they make that connection between the psychological perspective of the character...and the world she experiences," said the director, who had earlier described himself as a true-blue fan of the gaming franchise. "What I've tried to do is I've tried to make some of the environments reflect in some way her personal feelings, her experiences. And every monster...the logical reason why each monster appears when it does, what it represents and why it's doing what it is. ...That's what we tried to do, making a psychological horror movie but [in] a really in your face kind of environment. And it's graphic and it's violent, and it's quite sexual as well in many ways. So there's kind of a lot of fun stuff to play with."
So can the sequel live up to the first movie, which is generally well-regarded by fans of the game series? Even Bassett had to admit he wasn't sure.
"The first 'Silent Hill' movie is a really artistically superbly executed film," he said. "It's hard to make a better-realized version than that, just in terms of the art direction and how it's put together."
That said, one extra tool the director had in his visual arsenal was the 3-D element, which, despite his initial reservations regarding the format - and the fact that filming with the unwieldy cameras is "a pain in the ass" (Bassett's words) - he now feels the process is actually a no-brainer given the material.
"I wasn't a giant fan of that format to start with, [but] now I've played with it, [and] I understand the sort of things you can do," he said. "But if ever a film gave an excuse to kind of immerse yourself into another world, then it's 'Silent Hill.'"
"Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" is scheduled for release on October 26.