Not the 2006 film version, I’m going to focus on the video game series that inspired that movie. Not that the movie is THAT bad mind you. Lots of fans of the video game series were pretty vocal in their hate of that movie. But I’m not one of those fans, I realized the video games set the bar kind of high for a movie to try and emulate. But that’s one of the advantages a video game has over other non-interactive forms of media. With a video game, you are most often personally responsible for the health and well-being of a story’s protagonist. It helps to create that connection between reader/viewer/player and character that is helpful in creating a good narrative. A person is just more likely to enjoy a story if he likes and cares for the characters.
And that’s why I’m going to focus on Silent Hill 2. There’s nothing wrong with the 6 or 7 (depending on who you ask) other full installments of the series (ok a few of them were pretty terrible, but I won’t get in to that here) but the true jewel of the series is without question Silent Hill 2. And the reason it’s so well thought of and so often mentioned in lists of “best video game ever” is it’s story.
Atmosphere, pacing, characterization, hook, plot, subplot, anything that makes a good novel or well written screenplay good… Silent Hill 2 has it all. Which is good because from a purely technical standpoint… it’s not a very good video game. The controls are at best barely functional and the graphics, while good for a game made for a console almost 2 generations old, haven’t held up very well. But even in those faults there is a kind of mad genius. The controls ARE bad and frustrating when you have to fight off some of the… well things you have to fight (we’ll get to that.) But the main character James Sunderland is not an ex-military, mercenary, mma fighter, SWAT, special forces, (you get the idea) typical video game hero. James is just a normal guy (a writer or accountant I forget and it really doesn’t matter) so it makes sense that he’s not a great fighter. The graphics limitations of the console kept the developers from rendering anything more than 20 to 30 feet away from the camera for most of the game. However the developers (TEAM Silent, I should give them proper credit) washed out everything further than that in darkness (indoors) and a persistent fog (outdoors) adding to the atmosphere which was dark, unforgiving, and desolate.
And that’s where Silent Hill 2 shines and really comes alive. To set up the story, our hero James gets a letter from his wife Mary telling him she wants him to come and see her in the little town of Silent Hill where they spent their honeymoon. Which James agrees to do even though Mary has been dead for the better part of 2 years. Silent Hill (in the previous game) had been established as a town where some evil cult had done some fairly terrible things. But even though the cult had been vanquished (sort of) there was always the idea that the cult settled there because the town ALREADY HAD some sort of dark past, not the other way around. And in 2 you continue to get the idea that the town is sort of a “hell” for James which brings him face to face with his own dark past. And even though James (if he weren’t being controlled by a video game player) could just walk back to his car, drive away, and try to forget it ever happened… you also get the impression that he wouldn’t. He might just believe he deserves what he’s going through. You meet a small number of other characters in the game. They all have their own dark pasts and problems. And they behave oddly sometimes… as if they may not be seeing the same “reality” that James is experiencing. Making you wonder if they are insane. Or maybe JAMES is the crazy one.
No need to spoil it further. I’ll add some praise for the fantastic music used in the game written by Akira Yamaoka. Here
is the intro to the game, featuring the game’s iconic “Theme of Laura.” And so, if you are a video game player… chances are you have already heard about Silent Hill 2. Well, I urge you to give it a chance. And for those of you who aren’t into games… well here
is the game with all of its cutscenes and some of the more important game elements in a movie format. It suffers from having you “sit through” some of the things that a game player is actually interacting with. But it’s still better than most of the “scary” movies you could watch.
Next week… Phantoms.