Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Silent Hill: Revelation 3D has a lot of things working against it from the get go. It's based on a video game franchise that debuted in 1999 has been milked for sequels ever since (the current total of Silent Hill games is nine) and the movie itself is a sequel to the disappointingly dumb 2006 film directed by Christophe Gans. What's more the bitter aftertaste of Resident Evil: Retribution is still lingering in the mouths of survival horror movie/gamers and although they have entirely different plots and take place in totally different universes that's not necessarily enough to take the edge off for weary viewers.
It would take a dazzling director with a stellar cast and a first-rate script to overcome those sorts of obstacles and Silent Hill doesn't have any of those things. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett is obviously fond of both video games and horror (his previous movies include Solomon Kane and Deathwatch) the cast is decent with some exceptions and the script… well it's better than Resident Evil. If anything we can give Bassett credit for his enthusiasm. You really can't win when you try and make a video game movie no matter how many hours you spent playing Doom as a teen. Whether that's at the hands of the studios or the creative teams themselves isn't clear; it's simply a nut that hasn't been cracked yet.
The good news is that you don't really need a grasp on the video game or previous movie's narrative to follow the Revelation's plot. Harry (Sean Bean) has been lying to his daughter Heather (Adelaide Clemens) for a very long time. He's convinced her that her dreams about a terrible place called Silent Hill are the longstanding effects of a car crash that killed her mother and that they have to move around and take on new identities all the time because he killed a prowler in self-defense. Heather has other problems like the occasional hallucinations about a terrible alternate universe that's populated by monsters and industrial junk and flickering lights. One minute she'll be doing something normal and then suddenly the walls are burning down to the rafters and something with a butt for a face is shambling towards her. It's a raw deal.
Heather's first day at her new school is not that great; she meets a cute guy named Vincent (Kit Harington) who wants to be buddies but she makes it clear she's pretty bad ass and not one to pal around since she'll just be leaving town again anyway. When she comes home from school her dad has disappeared and the living room is a huge mess. If she wasn't clear on what to do next someone used his blood to write "COME TO SILENT HILL" on the wall with a funky sigil next to it which matches this weird object she's had since she was little. Luckily Vincent has a car and more than a few troubling secrets of his own underneath those glossy brown curls. He offers to drive her and off they go. Typical chitchat between them is about the nature of reality and dreams and Vincent's batty grandfather who's locked up in an insane asylum.
This is where things get really convoluted. Silent Hill is indeed a terrible place where ash falls from the sky during the day and horrible things come out to menace any townsperson dumb enough to be out at night. It's an eerie world that comes close to the truly terrifying Silent Hill games on occasion. After a while though it's mostly just Heather and occasionally Vincent running around in what seems like mazes of rusty bloody walls with the occasional gruesome monster popping out to halfheartedly menace them.
There's a dash of The Wicker Man here with the requisite creepy sacrificial cult and some Hellraiser-esque torture thrown in but it stops short of being a full-blown Clive Barker nightmare. There is some gore and disturbing images but the choice to use practical effects for almost all of the monsters is far more impressive in theory. Those monsters look okay from afar but rubbery up close whereas the only CGI monster is an impressive spidery thing made up of doll parts. The use of strobe lights and other effects is absolutely maddening especially in conjunction with the 3D which is mostly used for cheap gimmicks like splashing blood at the viewer.
There's something oddly satisfying about the way that the movie follows the trajectory of a video game; it's even laid out like a video game universe with different goals and bosses at each location. The problem is that what is believable or acceptable in a video game doesn't necessarily translate to a movie — in a game you're busy solving puzzles and killing monsters and it's easier to overlook kitchen-sink plots. Even though the movie doesn't completely hew to the game's story it's got the same mentality that more is better when it's really just more. And the more that's piled on the more ridiculous it gets. When everything is at a fever pitch that kind of weirdness becomes a baseline and nothing is shocking. Unlike in the games there's just one ending no matter how you play it.