silent-hill-4-occult

Editor’s Note:
This article explores the ins and outs of Silent Hill 4: The Room in great depth. As such, there are spoilers aplenty for nearly every aspect of the game, so be sure you know that going in.


Mom,
Why doesn’t u Wake up?

This enigmatic note is one of the first things that the player, assuming the role of Henry Townshend, discovers upon beginning a new playthrough of Silent Hill 4: The Room. The note is of no particular importance at the time, as the more pressing matter at hand is that Henry has been trapped in his apartment in South Ashfield Heights, Room 302, for five days.

As he searches for a way to escape, Henry discovers a hole in his bathroom that improbably leads to the subway. From that point on, Henry travels through multiple worlds that mirror the town of Ashfield and its surrounding locales, where monstrous creatures roam and new acquaintances die almost as quickly as Henry meets them.

Upon his return to Room 302, Henry hears snippets of news stories describing a series of copycat murders around town. Soon, the note under Henry’s door begins to take on a new meaning, one which will tie all of these disparate threads together.

Unfortunately, many players end up putting down the controller before they can make it that far. The game is a slow burn, held back by an awkward combat and inventory system, and a second half that may be the longest escort mission in gaming history.

It’s a shame that the game’s poor execution may keep players from appreciating one of the richest expansions of the series’ themes to date. Although the previous games in the series have covered similar ground — childhood fears, betrayal, love and loss — Silent Hill 4 subverts expectations by primarily using its antagonist to explore these issues. This isn’t Henry Townshend’s story, but that of Walter Sullivan, around whose childish obsession everything revolves. And what an intimate, compelling obsession it is.

tumblr_n83v9lQB3U1qbtk80o1_1280

Walter is first introduced at the beginning of the game, albeit indirectly; when Henry checks the door of his apartment, he finds it decked in chains, with a message from Walter warning him, “Don’t go out!” For the first half of the game, the player is largely kept in the dark as to who Walter is, why he apparently locked Henry in his apartment, and what connection he has with the town and its people.

The game leads the player along with subtle hints regarding a man only referred to as “he” or “him,” who is stalking and killing the residents of Ashfield. This includes the people Henry meets in the various worlds: Cynthia Velasquez in the Subway World, who believes she’s trapped in a dream; Jasper Gein in the Forest World, who is investigating rumors that the Wish House orphanage in the Silent Hill woods is the front for a cult; Andrew DeSalvo in the Water Prison World, a former caretaker at Wish House; and Richard Braintree, Henry’s acerbic neighbor, in the Building World.

At the end of each world, Henry finds a door bearing a placard, and behind it, a new victim with numbers carved into their flesh. Between his trips through the hole, Henry’s radio confirms that these deaths follow the modus operandi of serial killer Walter Sullivan; however, it is assumed that the recent string of murders in the area are the work of a copycat, because Walter committed suicide three years prior.

So why, then, does Andrew tell Henry that Walter Sullivan is coming to kill him, and also that Walter is the little boy in a striped shirt that Henry encounters in the Water Prison and Building World?

The end of the Building World adds to this confusion; when Henry steps through the door at the end of the level, he finds himself in Richard’s apartment, and sees Richard suffering an agonizing death in an electric chair as the little boy stands by. Richard manages to stutter out a final warning to Henry: “That’s no kid…it’s the 11121 man.

When Henry returns to Room 302 and looks out the window and into Richard’s apartment, what he sees isn’t the little boy, but a grown man in a blue coat, pointing ominously at his next door neighbor’s apartment. Impossible as it may seem, Walter Sullivan is back, and Henry and his neighbor Eileen are about to become intimately acquainted with the serial killer who has marked them as his final victims.

sh4_eileen

The answer to who (or what) Walter really is is buried in bits and pieces of information that Henry can find throughout the game, from memos and vague comments made by others to the very environments that he travels through. What the game eventually reveals is this:

Walter Sullivan was born in Room 302 thirty years before the time period in which Silent Hill 4 takes place. His parents abandoned him at birth, and he was found by the apartment superintendent, Frank Sunderland. Frank called an ambulance to take the baby to the hospital, but kept the umbilical cord, which he stored in a box in his room.

Walter was soon taken in by Wish House, the orphanage in the woods that was run by a local cult known as the Order. Here, children were regularly abused and indoctrinated by the orphanage “staff.” When he was six years old, Dahlia Gillespie, a member of the Order, convinced Walter that his mother was “asleep in Ashfield,” and that he could be with her if he could read the text known as the 21 Sacraments for the Descent of the Holy Mother.

The little boy regularly made the trip to the apartment building in which he was born, taking the subway or the bus, and eventually became a source of irritation to the building’s residents. He developed a belief that the room was his mother, and was dismayed that he could not see her, and that a “scary guy” was now inhabiting the apartment. Walter kept up his trips well into his teenage years, during which he stayed in the subway station, all the while nursing a growing interest in the sacrificial ritual outlined in the 21 Sacraments.

The First Sign
And God said,
At the time of fullness, cleanse the world with my rage.
Gather forth the White Oil, the Black Cup and the Blood of the Ten Sinners.
Prepare for the Ritual of the Holy Assumption.

The Second Sign
And God said,
Offer the Blood of the Ten Sinners and the White Oil.
Be then released from the bonds of the flesh, and gain the Power of Heaven.
From the Darkness and Void, bring forth Gloom, and gird thyself with Despair for the Giver of Wisdom.

The Third Sign
And God said,
Return to the Source through sin’s Temptation.
Under the Watchful eye of the demon, wander alone in the formless Chaos.
Only then will the Four Atonements be in alignment.

The Last Sign
And God said, separate from the flesh too, she who is the Mother Reborn and
He who is the Receiver of Wisdom.
If this be done, by the Mystery of the 21 Sacraments, the Mother shall be
Reborn and the Nation of Sin shall be redeemed.

He eventually settled in the town of Pleasant River and into the life of a university student. It was only at age 24 that he began committing the first of the murders required for the ritual. After killing ten people and removing their hearts, Walter took his own life in an apparent suicide. This act was the Ritual of the Holy Assumption, which allowed him to manifest within a world of his own creation. Intriguingly, the game lays this out for the player in a book scrap that can be found right at the start of the game:

Through the Ritual of the Holy Assumption, he built a world.
It exists in a space separate from the world of our Lord.
More accurately, it is within, yet without the Lord’s world.
Unlike the world of our Lord, it is a world in extreme flux.
Unexpected doors or walls, moving floors, odd creatures, a world only he can
control…
Anyone swallowed up by that world will live there for eternity, undying.
They will haunt that realm as a spirit.

This handily explains both the origin of the worlds that Henry finds beyond the hole, and their otherworldly qualities. Henry is trapped in one version of Ashfield and its surrounding areas — one built from the memories and experiences of Walter Sullivan — and the real world exists somewhere outside of it. Walter’s victims are either drawn into this world to be killed, or linger as spirits that Henry can encounter at random.

sh4_henry

The environments that Henry explores reflect a child’s perspective — large doors, menacing creatures, and impossible architecture — but also a child’s desperate longing for his mother’s love, and his desire to lash out at those who have wronged him.

Some of this symbolism is obvious, such as the birth imagery suggested by Henry’s journeys through the long passageways beyond the hole, or the fleshy, umbilical cord-like “Greedy Worm” that winds its way through certain areas. Some is more subtle, and can only be found in two important sources of information that were originally posted to the Japanese Silent Hill 4 website, known as Another Crimson Tome and The Sullivan Victims:

Consider how Walter’s victims fit into the schema of the 21 Sacraments. It’s no coincidence that each victim Henry has met so far fits one of the themes under the Third Sign, as indicated by the placards that Henry finds before he finds them; each one of them held a specific meaning for Walter, derived from their previous encounters with him. This also holds true for the First Sign and Second Sign, with some variation.

The Sullivan Victims outlines the pre-game victims. They include three priests of the Order, one of whom was apparently raising Walter to be “a skilled follower”; two of Jasper’s friends; the owner of a pet shop where young Walter accidentally injured a pet; and a seemingly random selection of locals — the ten sinners, Void, Darkness, and Gloom. Although it is unclear why some of the victims fit their themes, there is no doubt about the victim who falls under Despair.

The last of these victims, Joseph Schriber, was a journalist who was investigating the cult, and also the previous resident of Room 302. Unsurprisingly, he, too, ended up trapped in the room, and visited Walter’s various worlds before becoming his next victim.

Another Crimson Tome goes on to discuss the more explicit theming of the in-game victims: Cynthia snubbed teenage Walter in the subway when she was 13 years old (Temptation); Jasper was witness to Walter murdering his friends (Source); Andrew oversaw and brutalized Walter and the other children at Wish House (Watchfulness); and Richard accosted him on one of his visits to the apartment building (Chaos).

Walter’s ritual grows more deeply personal with every life he takes, and things come to a head where Eileen and Henry are concerned.

Henry’s next excursion outside of Room 302 takes him into a warped version of his apartment building, where Walter knocks at Eileen’s door before proceeding down the hall. Henry’s main goal in this area is to find a way into Eileen’s apartment, collecting tidbits of information regarding Joseph’s investigation and the other residents of South Ashfield Heights along the way.

Henry can encounter both young and adult Walter in this world. Little Walter can be found knocking on the door of Room 302, and vanishes if approached. The adult version of Walter sits in the stairwell between the 3rd and 2nd floors, and Henry cannot harm him, nor be harmed by him. If Henry interacts with him, Walter will tell Henry a story about how he received a doll from Eileen many years ago, and offer the doll to him.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjm2H6LJutU

It’s a strangely amicable moment between the two men, and seems out of place until one considers what Another Crimson Tome has to say about Eileen. When Eileen was five years old, she and her mother encountered Walter as they walked through the subway. Eileen, feeling pity for Walter, offered him her doll, an act which moved him to tears. Years later, Walter still clings to this memory, the perfect example of kindness and motherly love, and this marks only one of many times when the story of Walter’s past will be filtered through Eileen in some way.

The player does not have to go far to see the next example of this; when Henry at last enters Eileen’s apartment, he is too late to protect her from Walter, but just in time to see her thank young Walter for protecting her from “the man in the coat.” This struggle between the younger and older versions of the serial killer will come up again and again in the latter half of the game.

Henry is soon reunited with Eileen after she is taken to St. Jerome’s Hospital, the Hospital World area of the game. This is the same hospital that infant Walter was taken to as a child, and where Henry once again encounters the serial killer digging through the abdomen of a female corpse.

Upon escaping Walter and eventually locating Eileen, Henry is tasked with leading her through a redux of each of the worlds he has traveled through thus far, following hints that he has found in the scattered pages of Joseph’s diary that encourage him to go to “the deepest part of him [Walter] and look for the ultimate truth.” Although the worlds are essentially the same, there are several major changes of note: each world is haunted by the victim who died within it during the game, and Henry’s apartment can also have various hauntings occur between worlds.

To make matters worse, upon reaching the Forest World, Walter begins actively pursuing Henry and Eileen through the worlds. Notably, Walter only seems to focus on Henry, despite Eileen’s obvious and somewhat crippling injuries that keep her from moving very quickly. Should the player allow Eileen to be hurt by the monsters in the area, or if she gets in the way of Walter’s attacks, her skin will grow mottled and she will gradually be possessed by Walter’s “ghost.”

While one could argue that this is to facilitate her death — the more possessed she is, the more likely it is that Eileen will stop following Henry, or even attempt to cause herself injury — it makes little sense when one considers that Walter could easily kill Eileen at any time, without going through the trouble. The possession seems more suggestive of the ongoing internal conflict between Walter’s determination to kill Eileen, and his memory of her kindness. He uses Eileen as a mouthpiece for his young and adult selves, and in the process, opens himself to her (and, by proxy, Henry).

Eileen can read the red markings in Forest World that Henry could not read on his first sojourn, which are excerpts from young Walter’s diary, describing his experiences at Wish House. If she is seriously injured, she adds more detail, and reads in a child’s voice. If left in her possessed state, Eileen begins reciting parts of the 21 Sacraments in a more “manly” tone, or even speaking in tongues, at which point her possession can cause Henry injury if he lingers too close.

Accordingly, Walter ceases to have any sort of direct communication with Henry, as he did in the stairwell. Outside of his pursuit, he only appears again in Building World, when he forcibly carries his younger self away so that he may complete the 21 Sacraments, and he only speaks through Eileen.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ios5d3Ef6T8

Henry’s only role at this point is to absorb everything about Walter, past and present, as filtered through Eileen, the various worlds, and the brief comments made by the man himself. Who better to choose for this role than the person inhabiting Room 302, the focus of Walter’s obsessive need to be reunited with his mother?

Unfortunately for Henry, he has not been privy to one crucial fact — that Walter already succeeded in making his way into Room 302, several years ago.

In the final world, “Room 302 of the Past,” Henry and Eileen encounter the ghost of Joseph, who provides more information about Walter and explains to Eileen and Henry that they must kill Walter before they themselves are killed, as the Mother Reborn and the Receiver of Wisdom. Joseph also warns Henry of Eileen’s possession, thus serving his final role as the Giver of Wisdom.

Henry finds a pickaxe in the room that he later uses to break down a wall in his apartment, revealing a hidden storeroom… and the decaying corpse of Walter Sullivan, victim 11/21. Henry finds the keys to unlock his front door in Walter’s coat pocket, and exits into another version of Apartment World.

Walter pursues Henry and Eileen through this world as usual, but his younger self can be heard on the first floor of the building, calling for his father: “Dad? Where’s Dad? I can’t see your face.” This is one of only a few points in the game when Walter’s father is mentioned, and also the beginning of an odd sort of sidequest that enables Henry and Eileen to meet their goal, to enter the locked apartment belonging to Frank Sunderland.

Henry and Eileen discover Walter’s childhood sketchbook in the apartment lobby, at which point Eileen stops following Henry for some time, so that the player can explore the apartments without worrying for her safety. This segment of the game is focused on discovering six hanging bodies that represent Walter’s father. The bodies resemble Walter himself, but are wrapped tightly in cloth, faces obscured. The bodies vanish when Henry interacts with them, and leave behind snippets of conversation that hint that Walter’s father instigated the couple’s abandonment of their baby, and thought very little of him besides.

The entire sequence is cold, and feels disconnected from the rest of the late game. It is also a touch of gameplay brilliance, leaving the player isolated from Eileen and thus from her warm and motherly nature, much in the way that Walter was left behind. This happens again when Henry finds the final body, removing the last of the chains barring the superintendent’s door and allowing him to reunite with Eileen.

She expresses her pity for young Walter and her desire to help him (if she is possessed, she will be briefly taken over by young Walter or ask for “Mommy” and “Daddy” in a panicked voice), and then follows Henry to the superintendent’s apartment. Henry loses her again shortly after finding the umbilical cord in Frank’s room, and suffers a rush of Walter’s earliest memories into his mind.

This time, it is permanent. As indicated in Joseph’s diary, Eileen has now assumed the role of the mother’s body and her blood; the next time Henry sees her, it is fully possessed, in the final boss fight.

sh4_eileen2

Henry enters the fray from Room 302, by entering a black puddle that has mysteriously appeared beneath the now absent corpse of Walter Sullivan. What he finds is that Walter has failed to call his mother back with the ritual, but has instead summoned a fleshy, humanoid “god,” as per the cult’s original goal. WIth Eileen possessed and walking toward a rotating, spiked machine to her death, Walter is free to cordially explain to Henry that he is the final victim in his plan, and to get to work on killing him outright.

Defeating Walter requires several stages, perhaps the most ironic of which is that the god must first be weakened by the umbilical cord, the flesh of Walter’s mother, to weaken him. Henry then must stab the god with eight spears of the Holy Mother, and beat Walter down before Eileen walks into the machine.

Even if Henry succeeds, it is a hollow victory: Walter dies calling for his mother, and his younger self dies with him. Eileen and Henry make their escape, and presumably resume their normal lives. This is the “best” ending in the game, although one can’t help but feel like it has left more than a few loose threads hanging.

The true best ending of the game may actually be its “worst” ending, which provides a little more closure to Walter’s story. Should Henry fail to save Eileen and cleanse his apartment of hauntings before the final battle, he is possessed by Walter shortly after his defeat. Walter and his younger self then take up residence in Room 302. Young Walter is pleased to be with his mother again, but adult Walter barely reacts at all, even as his influence spreads throughout the building and begins to physically affect the other residents of South Ashfield Heights. Walter merely stands against the wall, staring down at the floor.

Perhaps he regrets his actions, or is simply disappointed that there is no flesh and blood mother to greet him. It could be that he is satisfied to merely be in the same space that his mother once inhabited. Whatever the case, the game leaves off with the impression that Walter has come to the same realization that Eileen did in the lobby of the apartment building; even the completion of the 21 Sacraments cannot undo what has already been done. Walter is still painfully alone, even in a world of his own making.

A lost child, endlessly seeking his mother.

Tagged in: Articles, Featured, PlayStation