There was a HOLE here. It’s gone now.
As mentioned in a previous post I must confess to something of an obsession with the decidedly Lynchian game, Silent Hill 2. Yes I know it’s for the PS2 and is as old as the hills but as far as inducing the kind of creeping fear that so many of these games promise, I have yet to see its equal.
The premise is a deceptively simple, if strange one. James Sunderland has made his way to the small town of Silent Hill following receipt of a letter, a letter which claims to be from his wife Mary; his wife who has been dead for t h r e e y e a r s . As he arrives he finds the town swathed in a thick fog, a fog that he soon discovers hides terrible things.
The fact that James’ initial arrival in Silent Hill proper, a journey on foot that can take the player as long as ten minutes (ten minutes where very little happens), shows the willingness SH2 has in taking its time, in setting the scene and the mood, in letting that mood develop, like some kind of otherworldly tumour; something which is as admirable as it is rare in the world of computer games.
The ‘monsters’ when they do appear are not your standard horror fare either: creatures who look like they’re tied in some kind of straight jacket made of their own skin, animated mannequins that recall the freakish, sexualized doll art of Hans Bellmer, faceless screaming nurses, shambling four-legged bovine creatures that resemble little more than walking tables of flesh -perhaps hospital gurneys; not forgetting of course James’ nemesis, the appropriately named Pyramid Head.
Throughout Silent Hill 2 places you square in the realm of nightmare without ever devolving into gothic horror cliché. In its almost continual use of limited visibility, whether through fog or darkness, the game adds another layer of unease, the fear of that which you c a n n o t s e e but can hear… getting closer… Hearing footsteps while walking down almost pitch dark corridors, lit only by a tiny torch, can raise the pulse, but later in the game when the torch suddenly fails, real panic sets in. Very quickly you find yourself relieved when you try a door and it’s locked.
But is Silent Hill 2 authentically Lynchian? I would argue that it is, albeit not comprehensively so.
James finds a broken transistor radio which emits a burst of white noise whenever creatures are near, this use of noise very much echoing Lynch’s use of drones, white noise, sounds of arcing electricity etc. to indicate threat, change and the like in much of his work.
There is also more than a little of Lynch’s psycho-sexual imagery too, from the fact that the straight jacketed creatures look uncannily ‘vaginal’, to the fact that in two scenes the aforementioned Pyramid Head appears to raping and / or killing one or more of the mannequin creatures.
Additionally, one of the characters James meets in the town, Maria, is a sinister, sexualised version of his dead wife. A mirror, a doppelgänger, she dresses in a more provocative way than Mary and is more sexually aggressive towards James. This mirroring most closely resembles that of Renne Madison / Alice Wakefield from Lost Highway, and Betty Elms / Diane Selwyn from Mulholland Drive, the ‘copy’ a kind of twisted ideal of the original that cannot hope but to eventually dissemble into the fate of the first.
Some of the dialogue too strikes a distinctly Lynchian tone. Sure he witnessed Maria’s murder, James then finds her in a prison cell, apparently alive and unphased:
MARIA: Did something happen to you after we got separated in that long hallway? Are you confusing me with someone else?
JAMES: Aren’t you Maria?
MARIA: (bitter) I’m not your Mary.
JAMES: So, you’re Maria?
MARIA: I am, if you want me to be.
Later, talking with another character, James alludes to the fact that the staircase on which she stands is on fire, to which she replies “You see it too? For me it’s always like this.” – a line that would not have been out of place spoken by Laura Palmer. Slogans found scrawled around the town also lean toward the Lynchian, slogans which include the ominous “The door that wakes in dreams, opening into nightmares.” -more than a little reminiscent of the one-armed man’s poem in Twin Peaks.
It’s true to say that as far as the tag ‘Lynchian’ goes Silent Hill 2 does go astray from time to time, wandering into areas somewhat more gothic, with allusions to dark cult activity in the town’s past etc., its set pieces are at times a little overwrought, and while the story is certainly involving and original, much of the dialogue (as in most games) is borderline painful; but overall the gaming expeience is genuinely frightening, absurd at times and deeply odd in a way that seems to spring directly from a kind of unfiltered dream logic. Sadly, none of the subsequant sequels in the franchise (while having their moments), nor the aneamic abortion of the film, have matched Silent Hill 2 in any of the above. However if you have the console and the game, the town is always waiting to breathe you in…
Draw the curtains, t u r n o f f a l l t h e l i g h t s , turn up the sound, and take a trip into the dark.