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games: silent hill 4: the room
This week, demon gods in Middle America.A game that repeatedly asks “Enter the hole?” before filling the screen with imagery akin to an endoscope entering an orifice - what would Dr Freud say about Silent Hill 4? But then the Silent Hill games have always been ripe with weirdness.
With Silent Hill, even when the play is frustrating – through the awkward combat or camera – there's a sense of being involved in something remarkable. This is not only due to the atmospherics of the games, it’s also the detail of the underpinning mythology. The rewards of the Silent Hill games don't necessarily come from the play itself but the sense of discovering more about the horrific scenarios. That and the perverse pleasure of being in the hellish alternate realities. Bad dreams anyone?
In broad strokes, the games are built around the mystery of a cult based in the picturesque American lakeside town of Silent Hill, and its efforts to bring about the birth of its demon god, Samael (a Talmudic figure essentially synonymous with the Devil). This may in part explain the cryptic nature of the games – after all, a yarn explicitly about a Satanist cult wouldn't exactly go down a storm among conservative US censors.
Of course, the games' distinctive hybrid of Americana, ancient Middle Eastern lore and twisted Japanese creepiness also connects with more popular culture. Jacob's Ladder remains the strongest cinematic frame of reference (the closed subway station from the film gets namechecked in SH3), but there are also nods to Rosemary's Baby and flavour from the likes of Twin Peaks and Stephen King.
In SH4, protagonist Henry Townsend (the spit of Peter Krause from Six Feet Under) enters a series of grim locations through the above-mentioned hole. The poor chap is supernaturally trapped in his apartment, and the notion of a hole, an impossible, non-Euclidean space comparable to that found in Mark Z Danielewski's postmodern novel House Of Leaves is fascinating. It proves a rather convoluted device, however, as Henry returns to his flat to save and manage items, and later deal with domestic hauntings. And worse.
The game does further contribute to the mythology, as Henry's quest brings him into contact with the legacy of the cult. On the whole, the franchise has done an impressive of job of remaining freaky and intriguingly enigmatic. Which is surely enough to keep further instalments tantalising for fans.
That said, maybe the upcoming movie from Frenchman Christophe Gans, director of Brotherhood Of The Wolf, will compromise the whole experience, as Western filmmakers have a tendency to over explain. If only Hideo Nakata, Takashi Shimizu or Ji-woon Kim was making it…
Silent Hill 4: The Room is available now on PS2, Xbox and PC.
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