Michael J. Bassett talks Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
This Friday, the sequel to the 2006 movie adaptation of the game series, Silent Hill, will be released in theaters. In Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) and her father (Sean Bean) have been on the run, always one step ahead of dangerous forces that she doesn’t fully understand. On the eve of her 18th birthday, plagued by horrific nightmares and the disappearance of her father, Heather discovers she’s not who she thinks she is.
Michael J. Bassett, a fan of the game series himself, was brought on to write the screenplay and direct the film. After directing several other horror films like Solomon Kane, Deathwatch, and Wilderness, Bassett had his work cut out for him with a sequel to the cult-hit, Silent Hill. The English screenwriter and film director spoke about his life-long fascination with the horror film genre as well as what it was like creating a Silent Hill movie that all audiences can enjoy.
AG: You’ve directed several other horror films. How did you get into the horror genre? Is it something that you’ve always wanted to do or did you fall into that?
MB: Oh no, I’m a horror fan. You end up making movies you enjoyed as a kid, I think. I grew up in the mid-80s when VHS movies were first available. You could rent movies. I remember cutting school as a teenager with a bunch of friends, renting a whole lot of horror movies, and just spending all day watching horror movies instead of going to school. I remember being caught by my head teacher — the principal — and he said to me, “What possible use is this going to be to you as an adult? What job can you get where this will be any good to you?” I wish I could see him now and say, “It seems as though it was really useful.” (laughs) Because that’s what I love. Half of me wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, and the other half wanted to be a filmmaker. I ended up going down one route and not the other. I like all sorts of genres, though, not just horror. I love horror. I love thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy, so Solomon Kane was a fantasy picture with a kind of horror beat running through it. A film like Silent Hill is much more directly a horror movie. It has twisted visuals; it’s going to scare you, put you on the edge of your seat, and make you jump a couple of times. It does all of those things a horror movie should do.
AG: I’ve read that you’re a fan of the games, so what was it like for you to be able to write the screenplay as well as direct something that you’re such a big fan of?
MB: Knowing that I was going to get to play a role in a film about Silent Hill was really exciting. I was a fan of the games. I’ve been playing them on and off since they first came out in the mid-2000s. I remember playing the game for the first time, seeing my friends play, and just being blown away by the new ideas and the visuals. It was so exciting. Then, to work with Samuel Hadida — he’s the producer who also worked with me on Solomon Kane – was great. He made the first Silent Hill movie, and he said to me, “I want to make another one. Would you be interested?” I was really excited. It’s a big challenge, though, because you have to make a movie that is not just for Silent Hill fans. It has to be for people who don’t know Silent Hill, who just want to have a great movie experience. They don’t want to study it, they don’t want to go play the games, and they don’t want to see the first movie. They just want to enjoy a great horror movie. So I had to do three things: I had to write a script which was a sequel to the first movie and made sense continuing the story of the little girl from Silent Hill; it has to be an adaptation of one of the games themselves, so we used Silent Hill 3 as a basis for the story; and it had to be a story which you don’t need any knowledge of, that you can just enjoy with a bunch of mates or your date on a Friday night and have the crap scared out of you. That’s kind of three jobs for the script, so it was a big challenge. It was very exciting but difficult.
AG: I actually read up a little on the Silent Hill game series, and it all seems very complex and intricate. How did you go about, like you said, basing it on the games but also making it clear for an audience that doesn’t know about Silent Hill?
MB: The key was that you had to start with the foundation story. It had to be a continuation of the story of a little who’s grown up – she’s turned 18 years old – and she’s been plagued by nightmares and memories that she’s been suppressing. Her father, played by Sean Bean in this story, is keeping her safe, moving her from town to town, because they’re afraid of something that he won’t tell her they’re afraid of. Her story, the story of a girl discovering who she is, she has to find out where her father disappeared to. In doing so, she has to return to this place called Silent Hill where all her nightmares are coming from. That is kind of the basic story. From there, I began to put more complex ideas in, which was bringing in the mythology of the game, and just layering those on top of the basic story, a simple story that everyone can understand and you don’t need any knowledge of Silent Hill to enjoy. So it’s just a question of layering everything in, one thing on top of another. Then, when we finally put the film together, we looked at it and said, “Can everybody understand that?” I think they will.
AG: Are there any horror film directors that you kind of looked to for inspiration when going about directing this film or any of your other films?
MB: Oh, I mean, obviously I’m inspired by loads and loads of different filmmakers. Ridley Scott is one of my great heroes in terms of his great visual style. When I was cutting school and watching those horror movies, the guys I was watching were Wes Craven, John Carpenter, some of the great horror filmmakers. I ended up working with Wes Craven years later, and I told him the story of cutting school, watching the original Hills Have Eyes and being told off for it. He started laughing when I told him, and I thought, “Years later, and here I am sitting with Wes Craven.” I mean, the truth is, you try and stay original to your own style, so visually, I’m influenced by the games. The games of Silent Hill are beautifully put-together, so I tried to capture that world for the audience. There are some good horror movie directors out there now, but right now a lot of the horror is found footage or it’s stuck in a very domestic, realistic world like a house or a street or something. One of the things I liked so much about Silent Hill is that they’re creating a whole new, original world. She starts in a regular town, but she ends up in a place that is just really twisted and dark, with the walls peeling, and this kind of rusted world of monsters and strange corners and freaky ideas. That was a kind of exciting thing to do as a filmmaker.
AG: You wrote the screenplay as well as directed it, so what was more difficult? Writing the screenplay or finding out how to direct it? Which do you enjoy more?
MB: Well, the thing is, when I’m writing, I just want to be directing. When I’m directing, I’d rather be at home writing (laughs). I’m never fully satisfied. The great thing about writing your own script is that when you’re writing, you have a sense of what you want it to look like. Then, when you’re on the set, it’s much easier to communicate that to the actors or the crew, because you know what you meant. Even if the have to make compromises or changes along the way for whatever reason, you’re working for a position of understanding very clearly. So that’s the kind of great thing. The other thing, the disappointing thing, is that the director can’t always do what the writer wants. So you have to be prepared for a little bit of disappointment, but it’s a great thing. It’s often tiring and very hard work, but it’s the best job in the world.
AG: If you could turn any movie that’s not in the horror genre into a horror film, what do you think that would be?
MB: A non-horror movie into a horror movie? (laughs) Wow! It would be like taking a great romantic comedy and turning it. Let’s take When Harry Met Sally. The other thing is, though, that there are so many other great things out there to adapt as well. So rather than taking an existing genre and making it something different, let’s take some of the stories that haven’t been told and do those.
AG: Speaking of which, what would be your dream horror film project?
MB: There is a great game, actually, called Deadspace. It’s fantastic. It’s terrifying. It’s science fiction, which I love. There’s some brilliant stuff to be done with that. I think some smaller horror is actually more interesting. There are a few scripts of my own that I’m desperate to get off the ground now. I’ve been doing TV recently and Silent Hill before that, so I need to make some time and figure out how to get my own stuff back to the screen. I think some deep, psychological horror is very interesting as well as the monster stuff. Silent Hill has a bit of both.
AG: When it comes to directing for the small screen and directing for the big screen, what’s the biggest difference?
MB: One of the things that are interesting right now is that television is sort of doing more interesting things than feature films in terms of budget. The budgets are getting a little better, but what I’ve discovered, really, is that it’s time. Television is done much quicker. You have to make choices faster, and you don’t necessarily get the luxury of stopping and thinking about it, trying something again. You’ve got to be confident with your first decision as the best decision. That’s the challenge. I mean, a lot of movies are done on a short schedule with a small budget. What I also think is great is that people’s televisions are getting bigger and better, so now you can shoot television much the same way as you shoot feature films for the visuals. So the worlds are not that different. The nature of storytelling is a little bit different, but as a director, you’re still trying to make something that is visually impressive, compelling, and does something new for the audience every time.
AG: I’ve actually noticed that on TV, there are a lot more “scary” shows, like American Horror Story or The Walking Dead. Are there any of those types of shows on TV that you’re a fan of?
MB: Oh, I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead. We didn’t get American Horror Story in the UK until quite later on, so I haven’t really gotten into that one yet. I mean, some of the visuals are fantastic. The Walking Dead is the one everyone is really going for at the moment. I tried out Grimm and stuff, but they’re not quite dark enough for my taste. I think horror on TV is something I’m really interested in doing more of.
AG: What kind of TV show do you think you would love to do?
MB: I could tell you, but I’ve got a couple of ideas I’m developing. I like action, and I like horror. I want to do an action horror show.
AG: That actually does sound like The Walking Dead. I love that show.
MB: It’s got proper action, but mine will have more action than that.
AG: Well, do you have any last words for the readers here in Houston about you or the film or any upcoming projects?
MB: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D comes out this Friday, so I hope everyone sees it and enjoys it. It’s a different experience from the regular horror movies. It’s not Paranormal Activity, it’s not Insidious, and it’s not Sinister. It’s a horror movie on a sort of grand scale. If you like your monsters, you’re going to get a lot of monsters.