Posted by nff77 on February 17, 2010
Poor Harry Townshend just can’t get out of his apartment. His front door is chained shut from top to bottom, and even the handwritten note under the peephole warns, “Don’t go Out!!”
He was a fairly content individual until this turn of events – heck, he found his home such a “safe place” that he scarcely interacted with others or the outside for the last two years. Which is why it’s so interesting that this humble one-bedroom one-bath apartment is used as a vehicle for the horror that sets in: all those little things he considered familiar and intimate, all those things that carry meaning for him and define him deteriorate into a nightmarish vision that threatens to kill not only him but all those around him.
Let’s meditate a little longer on this sense of “meaning.” We never really get to know very much about Henry. We can glean a few items of interest: he likes taking photos and keeping up with his scrapbook. His apartment, as we initially see it, is clean save for some clutter here and there. His refrigerator has a bottle of wine and some chocolate milk, but that’s about it. Much of his items are kept in much the same condition as when he first moved in – his bookshelf is mostly unread, and his other pair of shoes unworn. For a man who spends so much time in such a small space, if we were to go off his personal effects alone, it would have been hard to tell that anyone had lived there.
It’s this spartan environment that says much of the character of Henry himself. He’s almost a non-entity – though confused by his predicament, his reactions are not as strong as perhaps other people would be in encountering the ghosts and monsters that he does through the supernatural holes leading from his apartment. His trademark phrase of, “What the hell?” has become a point of ridicule for those who have played the game, as he repeats those words to an extent of self-parody. No hysterics, just a very subdued sense of confusion. Even in terms of self-preservation, he seems to care more about the safety of the people around him than his own, even reaching out to an electric chair in a misguided attempt to save a fellow tenant from frying to death at one point. Not only that, but breaking with tradition in the Silent Hill franchise, the nightmarish vision of the game’s environment and creatures reflect less of Harry’s own psyche than his antagonist, Walter Sullivan. In fact, it could very well be compared to The Great Gatsby in terms of narrative: Harry is more like the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, as he begins to piece together Walter’s sordid history (which is a much more involved series of discussion than will be covered here) and how he fits into the strange events of the game.
And it is the decisions by the developers to portray these events in a certain fashion that, despite much maligned gameplay problems, still really helps to create a sense of disease in the player. Little touches in certain parts take the universal and mundane and turns them into something disturbing. Your home, at first relatively normal looking – save the aforementioned chained-door and the soft part of the living room wall where you can look in on your neighbor Eileen – gradually becomes haunted by all sorts of ghosts that you must exorcise (if you want to get the better endings, that is). The peephole with which you can look out into the “normal” world always has something different to see on the other side, which in and of itself can inspire a sense of dread (I’ll never forget seeing the “victim” version of Henry: bloody, eyes not visible, his lips moving erratically with words we can’t hear).
Notice my use of “your” in that last paragraph. While we always identify with whatever we play as to a certain extent, the game broke with its predecessors in yet another way by allowing a first-person perspective when you’re in Henry’s apartment. For all of the floating ghosts and two-headed baby monsters, it’s those moments in his home that always strike the most fear in me – which says a great deal, as those creatures are not at all fluffy bunnies and unicorns. After finishing each session of the game in my own living room, I can’t help but be a complete milquetoast when I catch sight of some ugly depression in a wall and feel my skin crawl ever-so-slightly.
Thanks, Team Silent, for making me question the very safety of my own home.