Silent Hill is perhaps one of Konami’s most lucrative franchises, ironic considering that it was created by a team who were going to be booted out of Konami, yet created one of the most emotional, and interesting, video games to come out of the survival horror genre. It was one of the first games to invest in an emotional storyline where the audience felt connected with the characters, rather than sole emphasis upon plot. Open to multiple interpretations, and genuinely scary, although recent installments have dwindled in success and quality, the original four or five games are as beautiful as any art. Silent Hill 2 is perhaps their most popular installment, and tells the story of James Sunderland, who travels to the eponymous town to find his dead wife, and, in typical Silent Hill fashion, uncovers a lot more.
As many of the cutscenes are short, I will here analyse several opening cutscenes. This FMA (full-motion video, a type of video game cutscene, generally of a higher quality than in-game cutscenes) was also known as the teaser trailer for the game Silent Hill 2. The non-diegetic soundtrack is “Promise”, a song on the game’s soundtrack, recorded specifically for this introductory video. The purpose of the video is to introduce the scenario and main characters – namely James and Maria – to the audience, along with introducing monsters, and several other background characters to draw and advertise the game.
The first shot shows Maria, sitting behind bars, from a mid-shot. This automatically puts the audience in James’ position- it is a form of direct address, and she clearly knows something about the character she is addressing. Furthermore, her relaxed posture and revealing clothing suggest that we as an audience are familiar with her, which deepens the emotional connection to the narrative. The personal touch to her speech, and the information she relays also furthers the connection. Her speech introduces us to the ambiguity of her character; she resembles Mary, James’ dead wife, and speaks of their shared memories together before revealing that she is not all that she seems. This theme is recurrent throughout the entire game, and so introduces the audience to this concept, as well as acting as a hook. Emphasis is put upon her manner of speaking to deepen the impact and emphasis and so there is a lack of soundtrack at this point. The scene then swiftly jump-cuts to James’ reaction to this, again from a mid-shot, that is also shown over Maria’s shoulder. This is a common technique used to simulate conversation. This also serves to assert Maria’s dominance over the conversation, as even when she is not talking, she takes up most of the frame. James is simply confused.
During the penultimate exchange in this scene, the camera slowly zooms in on Maria, showing her reaction in greater detail, and again putting emphasis upon her – there is no over-the-shoulder shot here. This establishes her as the important character within this exchange, as well as the one in control of the situation. James has no control, he is bemused, confused, and so the conventions that would be used here (over the shoulder shot) are instead flaunted. This final exchange also establishes the main scenario of the game, making it familiar to the audience and introducing them to the main plot. Through this conversation we learn that Maria looks like Mary, a person close to James, and the plot of the game is set into motion to familiarise it with an audience. James’ final statement: “aren’t you Maria?” is emphasised through the use of a close-up shot, showing how upset he is by all of this, and establishing him as the addressee, and main character of the game. This has the dual impact of introducing the scenario, as it is clear he is searching for someone.
The colour scheme used within this scene is very dull, and the filters used on-screen give a grimy, foggy feeling to the entire shot. The only colours to stand out are the top Maria wears, which is red, simultaneously putting emphasis upon her lustful tendencies, and impulsive nature. James, on the other hand, is dressed in very dull clothing that blends into the background of the scene and asserts his everyman nature.
This shot then fades through to fog, an important aspect to Silent Hill, before revealing the name of the game. Following on from this, there is a zoom-out, to a mid-shot, to establish the scene and again, the colours used here are very dull. From there, there is a fluid shot, full of movement, of an incredibly ambiguous item – this again would act as a hook for the audience, who will be drawn in by the narrative, and the appeal of wanting answers. This scene is repeated several times throughout, increasing the suspense. From there, there is a shot of a hospital bed, establishing one of the key themes of the game; Mary’s hospitalisation. This shot is sepia in tone, and this is done both to evoke a sense of nostalgia, and as an emphasis upon the dull palette and grimy detail of the game. Hospitals are also a horror archetype, establishing the genre for a new audience.
Throughout these scenes, there is a filter similar to that of a hand-video recorder present. This is included both to simulate home-made footage (which is intrinsically linked to the plot) and to create an amateurish feel, and thus, a more personal feel. As the audience, you could almost have recorded this yourself. The next scene, that of an actual home video, establishes the game’s lore for the new audience; “this whole area used to be a sacred place”, as well as establishing that Mary, mentioned previously, is sick. This scene is shot in place and white, to create a sense of bleakness and depression, as well as to simulate real home recordings. The entire shot is intercut with shadowy footage of James carrying someone, possibly a body, to an unknown location, creating dramatic suspense and further reinforcing the horror aspect.
There are several other shots of Maria, displaying key plots within the game –the first meeting and the argument – which further introduces her character, as well as linking her to that of Mary and inferring that Mary is dead. Interestingly enough, the only characters emphasised within the opening portion of the video are female, displaying, perhaps, James’ issue with women. This scene then cuts to show the supporting characters, Angela, Eddie and Laura; following on from this are several scenes inferring that supporting characters may well be mentally unstable, with similar dark tone, a sudden change from the dull colours previously shown. The colours during this scene are incredibly dark, the faces obscured, which again establishes the genre as horror, by introducing a traditional horror archetype – darkness.
By the end of the trailer, the video has come full circle, showing Maria, once more, and further establishing her flirtatious ways with a close up shot, fully displaying her intentions to James. All the main characters have been established, as has the setting and scenario of the game.
This first scene establishes James as the main character, showing him as pensive and reflective – both literally, and metaphorically, as he looks at himself in the mirror and then sighs remorsefully, whilst asking himself a question. The music at this point, obviously non-diegetic, is strange, and surreal, just as the filters overlayed in the scene do not feel realistic. The scene jumps from close-up to mid-shot, arcing over from a Dutch angle to fully set the camera straight for a moment. This is done to emphasise the confusion of the scene, how lost James feels, and also to portray the bathroom – it is shown as dirty, littered, and this establishes the scene of Silent Hill to an audience familiar with it. By the end of this scene it has once again moved on to a Dutch angle and the camera has panned across a full arc. At this point James addresses himself, asking himself a key question: “Mary, could you really be in this town?” His confusion is mirrored in the angles used during this shot, which are deliberate in that they are used to portray confusion. The constant movement of the cameras emulates this, as it is disorientating and confusing for the audience.
At this point, control is given momentarily over to the player, so that they can get used to the controls and move James out of the bathroom, and into the car-park, setting off another cutscene.
This cutscene begins with James, mid-shot, showing him stood alone. This scene emphasises how alone he is, and how alone he feels, and eventually zooms out to create an establishing shot of the town of Silent Hill, and more importantly, Toluca Lake, which is James’ first destination. This also acts to show that James has come here alone, whilst he ruminates on the letter that drove him there. The aforementioned letter is read out, in non-diegetic (or possibly diegetic, if James is thinking about his wife’s voice) by Mary, who is never seen. This creates a connection with Mary as a character, as though you do not interact with her, you have now heard her voice, and personal dreams, creating a more human and emotional character. You can instantly connect with her. This scene also portrays how desolate, and alone, Silent Hill is, and how alone James is. He stands alone in Silent Hill, thinking about his wife, which links back to the first scene wherein he wonders about her whereabouts. At this point the soundtrack, also non-diegetic, changes from surreal to emotional – the music, once synthesised, is now a string instrument, an instrument traditionally associated with sadness.
The entire shot that follows is an extreme long shot, portraying James as small, insignificant, swamped by both the town, and his emotions. It is here that he sets the scene, establishing the basic motives, and location of where he currently is. This is done to make it obvious to the audience as to where they are, and what they are doing, and is clearly a form of goal-setting. Furthermore, the internal dialogue the audience can hear (in which James is talking to himself) creates an emotional connection with James, as his grief is witnessed for the first time. This grief is emphasised with the use of a stereotypically “sad” instrument, along with an internal monologue where he thinks things over and reveals personal information, creates empathy for him. James’ grief, after losing a loved one, is something all can empathise with, and at this point he is a sympathetic character. The audiences’ emotions are manipulated by the scene itself. At this point, the town is not scary, but sad and desolate, reflecting back in James’ emotions – the town is, to an extent, an extension of him, and when he later loses his mind, the town becomes more horrific.
After this the character once again gains control and begins guiding James on his journey, encountering the first of the supporting characters along the way, and creating a vague sense of unease through the gameplay.