Friday, 28 October 2016

October Nightmares II #28: Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004) - Boom! Shake the Room

Silent Hill 4: The Room often gets a bit of stick. Near universally loathed, it’s considered to be the awkward forth member at the original trilogy’s threesome, contributing nothing but drooling in a corner and attempting to fondle its withered genitals.But even if SH4 is lost in the shadow over the originals, and is heavily flawed, I still consider it to be the second best game in the series. Below only Silent Hill 2 and above the rest. Making a claim like that is akin to smearing your nob in meat paste and sticking it in the river rampant with feminist piranhas.

It’s a shame that Silent Hill 4 is often overlooked in favour of the more popular entries, like when people realise there’s a forth Baldwin brother. SH4 has the most intriguing plot of the series for a start. You play as Henry Townshend, blandest man in the world, who has been locked in his apartment for the past five days. Nothing works as it should in Henry's apartment and contact with the outside world is impossible. But it’s not a case of Henry having been on a massive bender and lost his door keys in the toilet. There’s something far more sinister at work; as can be evidenced by the massive fucking chains zigzagged across Henry’s front door, as though it spent the weekend at Pinhead’s house.

Henry’s only recourse are the strange holes which appear in his apartment and act as gateways into horrifying and ironically themed worlds. A neat touch, really. In SH2 James had the hope of having one last go on his sexy dead wife’s tits to keep him going; SH1 was about Harry finding his daughter, and SH3 had said daughter determined to tell everyone it isn’t her birthday. The point is that the protagonists of those games could literally turn around, go home, and bake a cake or something instead. Henry’s got the temporary safety of his apartment, sure, but sooner or later he’s going to starve or lose his marbles. Pulling an Andy Dufresne and crawling through the shit-smeared hole in his bathroom is a choice the protagonist and player make, but it’s the only sensible option.

One word I’d use to describe Silent Hill 4 is strange. And I’m not referring to the peephole in Henry’s apartment that looks into his attractive neighbour’s bedroom and is suspiciously nob-sized. It’s the game in general which is strange. The relatively realistic design of the environments (subways, hospitals, citadel style prisons, etc) - which take inspiration from orderly, non-distinct modern Japanese architecture - give the experience an off-kilter dreamlike vibe. And the levels like the apartment block beyond Henry's room and the world that's a composite of every building Henry can see from his room, really push the weirdness as far as it can go. Then there's the first person apartment sections (replacing the semi-open ended exploration of the foggy town) which feel like they belong to a different franchise entirely. I know this criticism comes up a lot in regards to SH4, but according to Team Silent it’s not the case – SH4 was always meant to be a Silent Hill game, suck it up kids.

Moreover, the game tries to capture the insane mind of its primary antagonist – serial killer Walter. As such there’s no consistent theme or tone, unlike in SH2 which had the enemies overly sexualised to represent James’ pent-up sexual frustration. Clearly the guy never heard of a fleshlight. Some of the enemies represent Walter’s victims – most notable are the poltergeists and double-headed giant baby doll things – but some just feel as though the devs wanted to go home early. What, exactly, do the incredibly tall burping nurses or man-monkeys represent? Anti-Obamacare propaganda? Walter himself isn’t as terrifying a recurring foe as Pyramid Head. He may be unkillable but he's a cross between Jesus and First Blood Rambo – what with his lanky hair and drifter mac that you just know he’s naked under.

But it’s Walter as a person that makes him a truly creepy villain. In what has got to be the ultimate version of a person’s Freudian desire to crawl back up his mother’s vagina, Walter believes Henry’s apartment is his biological mother and he wants back in. So he undergoes a series of ritual murders which he believes will reunite him with his mother. I guess he’s a fan of Seven, Resurrection, and every other late Nineties serial killer movie. Walter’s the closest the series has ever come to an identifiable villain; none of the series’ cult-stuff (which shows up here, thankfully marginalised) worked for me. Just a bunch of ponces taking up valuable screen-time by emoting like first year university students with a Philosophy free elective.

Silent Hill 4 may not be the best Silent Hill game, but it’s certainly the creepiest. The Japanese style ghosts - which melt out of the walls and stalk the player wailing the sort of ghastly wail that sounds like they’re enduring the meat sweats – are easily the most terrifying monster the series has thrown our way. Henry's neighbours are equally weird, one keeps a smelly umbilical cord in a box, and the rest are embroiled a serious of escalating revenge plots - cumulating in a dead cat in a fridge and a flaying. SH4's horror comes from peculiarity than the full-blown body horror of the previous game - though I suppose the enormous head in the hospital level pulls double duty. 

The sanctuary offered by the apartment becomes more appealing as the game progresses and resources become increasingly scarce. And so Team Silent do the unthinkable: slowly turn the apartment against you. Overtime the apartment becomes rusty, dirty, eerie, and filled with horrific apparitions. Eventually cumulating with this once safe place becoming outright oppressive and damaging to the player, like how SJWs feel when white guys turn up to their safe spaces. You’ve got to hand it to Team Silent, they’ve effectively made a horror game out of putting off doing the weekly household clean.