Feature: Venture Into SILENT HILL

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Silent Hill. To a certain sub-section of gamers those two words are enough to bring fervent praise, at least for a few of the titles in the series, and remembrance of psychological horrors that few videogames have ever managed to match. For many the series is the pinnacle of horror on the home consoles, offering a different take on the survival horror genre than the likes of Resident Evil and being all the better for it.

The general consensus amongst fans is that the first two games in the series, which has seen 13 titles released thus far, are the pinnacle. Both are magnificent blends of visceral fear and complete mind-screwingly terrifying plot, mixed with musical scores that can stand up against anything in the horror genre on a video game console.

The first time players found their way into Silent Hill was during the glory years of the PlayStation. Resident Evil had shown the world what the survival horror genre was capable of when it came to jump scares, but this new title from Konami went an entirely different route. This was a game that featured mutilated babies in a school attempting to kill you (they were removed from the PAL version). Resident Evil had monsters. Silent Hill had abominations.

The fear was truly ratcheted up with the realisation that main character Harry Mason was utterly useless. He got out of breath after running, could barely aim a gun and was extremely fragile. In short, he was human. The stark realisation of that fact made Silent Hill all the more terrifying, as the player attempted to venture through the game with only a radio to alert them to the presence of nearby creatures.

Silent Hill introduced the idea of a demonic child who was behind all of the problems in the town, an idea that was later used for the first film alongside a host of other bits and pieces (more on that later). There were also echoes of the possibility that the town itself, rather than anybody in it, was to blame for the horrors that faced the player. However it was Silent Hill 2 that explored this idea further and, in doing so, provided the series with its most iconic character to date.

The sequel started with a man named James Sunderland arriving in town after receiving a letter from his dead wife. This was a little bit odd considering the fact that she was, well… dead. Sunderland arrives in the sleepy seaside town only to soon discover that things are not quite right. The few people he encounters seem to have a few screws quickly coming loose and the town soon develops a habit of transforming into a living nightmare. Most petrifying of all is one particular fiend that seems to stalk James wherever he goes.

This particular monster could be mistaken for the archetypical unstoppable slasher villain, however it was so much more than that. It was the physical manifestation of all of the guilt and hatred that James Sunderland had for himself over the death of his wife. It was Silent Hill’s way of getting so far inside Sunderland’s head that it could set up shop there and was the ultimate implacable man. Wielding a butcher’s knife that was far too large to ever be useful, the creature had a scary disregard for anything that came near it and was relentless in its efforts to destroy James. That creature was the iconic Pyramid Head.

It was an amalgamation of these two games that was used when the first film to be based on the series was announced. The movie, which starred Sean Bean (Christopher Da Silva), in a rare role where he didn’t die, and Pitch Black’s Radha Mitchell (Rose Da Silva) saw the family attempting to help their adopted daughter, Sharon, deal with her constant nightmares and sleepwalking. The one constant they could draw upon in doing this was the phrase ‘Silent Hill’, often murmured by the youngster during these fits.

Being the intrepid, and apparently rather rash, parent that she is, Rose decides to take the kid to Silent Hill after discovering that the town exists and is considered a bit of a ghost town by all accounts thanks to a mining accident that apparently incinerated much of the population. Of course fans of the series know that once she enters, Rose is going to have her work cut out if she ever intends to leave.

Upon arrival to the town, following a brief chase with a policewoman named Cybil Bennett, Rose crashes her car when a young girl walks out in front of it. Upon awakening from her unconscious state, she discovers Sharon missing and thus proceeds to look for her and discover the grisly story behind the mysterious town.

The film drew a generally mixed reaction and there are a number of things that it does both right and wrong. Director Christophe Gans decision to cast a female in the lead role, ostensibly because he considered the game’s Harry Mason to be a feminine character because of how much he cared for his daughter (!), wasn’t taken well by fans, especially when it was revealed that Sean Bean was added to the cast to provide a male presence to the film. “Why not just have him play Harry Mason?” was the cry that would have been heard if people were crying it, but instead people generally simmered about the issue a little bit.

The general plot of the game was flipped around a little bit too. The game saw Alessa, who was the supernaturally-powered child responsible for much of what was wrong with the town, having been possessed by the deity worshipped by a cult within the town. However, despite keeping the cult idea, the movie actually saw the opposite as fanatical cultists attempted to murder the girl amidst accusations she was a witch. This led to her anger and hatred becoming so pervasive that she could be possessed by a dark spirit that allowed her to seek revenge on the fanatics, hence Silent Hill. Ironically, despite this turnaround, the fanatics who weren’t trying to bring their deity onto the planet actually succeeded in doing what the ones in the game were trying to do!

Perhaps the biggest crime, though somewhat mitigated by the monster’s cool factor, was the reduction of Pyramid Head to essentially the aforementioned slasher villain. It could be argued that the creature was the ultimate manifestation of Alessa’s hatred and it is certainly brutal enough for that role but, when compared to what it was in the second game, it just seemed a mite simplistic.

Having said that, the film also got quite a lot right. The visual styling was widely praised by critics, and rightly so as the town of Silent Hill is eerie when it is fairly normal and downright horrifying when it transforms. There is never a moment when you get the sense that the main characters are starting to feel comfortable in their positions, which is the exact feeling the games inspired that allowed them to freak so many people out.

This is partially down to the styling of the monsters, most of which were taken from Silent Hill 2 as well. Very little CGI was used in the film, so the jerky movements you see on screen are actually people acting out the monsters movements, making it all the more convincing and disturbing at the same time.

The soundtrack excels in many ways as well. Often subtle and occasionally unnerving, usually within seconds of each other, Akira Yamaoka brings the skills that made the games such an aural feast to the film. The iconic horn and hideous grating noises that symbolise the worst parts of the town are sure to cause more than a few buttocks to clench.

Despite the criticisms, Silent Hill stands as one of the better video game adaptations thanks to sticking at least somewhat close to the source material. It proved popular enough to warrant a sequel at least, which brings us to Silent Hill: Revelation 3D.

Leaving aside the whole 3D thing for a minute, seeing as it is blatantly there for a scene where Pyramid Head shoves his blade out of the screen, Revelation will follow the story of Heather Mason, who fans of the series may recognise as the star of the third game and adopted daughter of the original’s Harry. Given this information it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that the second film is based on the plot of the third game, with Heather being revealed to be the renamed daughter of the Da Silva’s, thus essentially turning Sean Bean into the Harry Mason that many people thought he should have been in the first place.

The third game in the series followed Heather as she was drawn to the town of Silent Hill only to discover that an evil cult that resides there plans to use her to birth their own god, thus completing a bitter cycle that started in the first game. Sure enough, Carrie Anne Moss has been announced as a cult leader for the third film so it is entirely likely that this particular strand of the plotline will be stuck to, with the added conceit that she comes to the town in search of her own disappeared father.

The film will see the return of the majority of the major players from the original, sans the other cult members who got a little bit torn up by Alessa Gillespie, though seeing as that film ended with the two women stuck in one world and the father stuck in another it will be interesting to see exactly how they explain the sudden turnaround of having the daughter suddenly with the male Da Silva rather than Rose.

Luckily the film looks set to follow the plot of the games a touch more tightly than other game-based movies do, which should at least stand it in a little bit of good stead with the fans. Whether it can grab the casual interest enough to warrant credit as a good film in its own right is now up to the cast.

So, in short, it is set to be a film about a woman who gets trapped in the town of Silent Hill while looking for someone who has gone missing. While there she will be forced to evade a whole host of creepy beasts, including the nefarious and murderous Pyramid Head, before eventually encountering a cult whose plans she must foil to stand any chance of escaping. There is also the promise of a revelation right there in the title, so that should reveal more about the town itself.

Something sounds eerily familiar about all of that…

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D is out on October 26TH.

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