Note: This essay spoils Silent Hill.
For many of us, the most significant emotion of parenthood is the overwhelming paranoia that we will totally and irrevocably fuck up our children’s lives forever. And that’s on a good day. Rose and Christopher Da Silva (Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean) are not having a good day. There haven’t been any good days for a while, in fact. For weeks, they’ve been plagued by their adopted daughter Sharon’s (Jodelle Ferland) inexplicable sleepwalking and harrowing nightmares about a place none of them has ever been, a famous American ghost town called Silent Hill. Sharon has no memory of these incidents in her waking hours, which is cause enough for Christopher to insist that she be moved to a hospital for more intense care. Rose, however, is sure that the only way to calm her daughter’s mind is to take her to Silent Hill and confront whatever force has been haunting her. She takes off with Sharon late one night, only to attract the attention of police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), whose personal history with Silent Hill makes her wary of anyone willingly heading in that direction. Cybil’s fears are confirmed when Sharon goes missing and all three women find themselves mysteriously trapped in a dark and foggy alternate reality.
Not only are Silent Hill’s male characters largely cut off from the action, but many of the film’s monstrous creatures personify destructive masculine impulses. One of Rose’s first encounters is with Colin (Roberto Campanella), the grade school janitor who sexually abused Alessa when she was a young girl. Colin is now grotesque and undead, blinded and bound by barbed wire and forced to crawl impotently along the floors of the derelict school for all time. The giant Pyramid Head (also Campanella) stalks the remaining residents of Silent Hill, awkwardly swinging his oversized, phallic sword at anything that crosses his path. The character first appeared in the game Silent Hill 2 as a manifestation of protagonist James Sunderland’s repressed guilt; after the death of his wife, James had an unconscious need for an executioner who could punish him for his sins. Gans (together with co-screenwriter Roger Avery) evokes a similar symbolism by having the character act as an oppressive, penetrative force. In an early scene, Rose and Cybil hide in a small, womb-like space while Pyramid Head stabs at them blindly from the other side of the door. Through her creations, it becomes clear that Alessa’s pain is rooted in sexual violence: when finally given the chance for revenge against Christabella, she makes sure to violate her with barbed wire before ripping her in half.
*Look, not everything in this movie makes sense.