After many years, Silent Hill 4 is finally getting its due with a great port from GOG and people discovering cut content from the game.
I give it a really strong recommendation! Like, many thumbs up.
However, one part of the game has always struck me as very unsettling and we’ll get into that right… about… now!
Spying on Eileen
In Silent Hill 4, you play as Henry Townshend (I always thought it was Townsend…), a dude who gets trapped in his apartment by a serial killer named Walter Sullivan who has a plot to be reunited with his mother, which he believes is Henry’s apartment… yup, welcome to Silent Hill (or Ashfield Heights in this case).
Also living in the apartment is Eileen Galvin, Henry’s next door neighbour, who is also part of Walter’s 21 Sacraments as “The Mother Reborn.”
Throughout the first half of the game, Henry spies on Eileen through a peephole in his wall, which was created by the apartment’s former tenant, investigative journalist Joseph Schreiber who had hoped to escape the occult shenanigans created by Walter.
We spy on Eileen eating, talking to her friends, watching TV, getting ready for a party, and, as shown in some deleted content, changing clothes.
It’s voyeuristic… and to what end? Protect her from Walter? To warn her? We certainly don’t do either of those things as she gets violently assaulted later in the game. Staring at Eileen is really just a game mechanic that Henry never actually addresses as a good thing or bad thing in the game.
However, our spying eye is punished by a jump scare involving the Robbie the Rabbit doll sitting on Eileen’s bed.
This jump scare is also the source of some of the oldest Internet videos I’ve ever watched, so there’s that too. Remember justin.tv? Yeah, I don’t either.
This jump scare happens right after Eileen is attacked by Walter and is sent to hospital, but what is Robbie saying to us with his little, bloody paws?
What makes it unsettling?
What makes this jump scare — if you can even call it that — unsettling is that it turns this sense of comfort that we had spying on Eileen on its head. We, as in the player, are the voyeur.
We’re confronted by this image of a Silent Hill mascot with a bloody face pointing us out and telling us that he can see what we’re doing: spying on a young woman in her bedroom.
This YouTuber also makes an interesting connection between our voyeurism and the giant Eileen head that appears in the game. What giant Eileen head, you ask?
Henry finds this giant, moaning head in the game’s hospital level. It stares at you as you move about the room and makes sexual noises.
In a way, it’s Eileen staring back from the peephole giving you the same level of discomfort that your spying would have given her — if she’d known you were doing it, which Henry never admits to doing.
And it’s a huge wrong doing. Voyeurism is a crime and an invasion of privacy, but Silent Hill 4 turns it into a game mechanic without function. Spying on Eileen is a pleasurable thing — you keep hoping to see something titillating — at least until Robbie the Rabbit reminds us we shouldn’t be doing it.
Women’s suffering in Silent Hill
Spying on someone really is the least of the transgressions we see against women in the video game series, which I’ll get into… in a very inaccurate and abbreviated way… now!
In Silent Hill, we learn that Alessa Gillespie was burned alive for the sake of creating extreme trauma so she could birth a god. Lisa Garland was blackmailed over her drug addiction into keeping Alessa, who was suffering with burns over 100% of her body, alive for many, many years.
In Silent Hill 2, Mary Sunderland was diagnosed with a fatal disease and was killed by her sexually repressed husband. Maria is a weird, exotic dancer doppelgänger of Mary who is overtly sexualized and gets violently murdered by a spear-wielding Pyramid Head. Angela Orosco is a sexual abuse victim who ends up immolating herself because of the shame she feels after confronting a monster version of her father in a room filled with penetrating, metal pistons.
In Silent Hill 3, Heather/Cheryl Mason gets attacked by a giant penis monster and ends up performing an abortion on herself expel a god from her womb. Claudia Wolf was beaten and abused so badly by her father that she was forced to believe in his weird occult bullshit, and she also impregnates herself with the god that Heather aborts, which then kills her. In fact, the whole game is built on Valtiel, the big bad of the game, using Heather’s fears over sex, rape, and abortion against her, so… great.
And in Silent Hill 4, Eileen Galvin is The Mother Reborn who needs to die in order to give birth to… something? It’s a little unclear; however, she’s one of two female characters in the game (the other being Cynthia Velasquez who is comically sexualized) who are both targets of gigantic misogynist Walter Sullivan. Eileen also spends most of the game running around in a skimpy party dress getting weapons like a riding crop — perhaps nods to Poison from Final Fight.
Basically how Silent Hill treats women.
There are thematic similarities between Silent Hill’s female characters whether they’re being forced to give birth like Alessa, Heather, Claudia, and Eileen, overtly sexualized then violently killed like Maria and Cynthia, or victims of abuse by men, sexually or otherwise, like Angela or Lisa.
Meanwhile, the male protagonists rarely suffer the same extremes the female characters do. Harry Mason ends up dying in Silent Hill 3, but remains relatively unscathed. James Sunderland has to confront that he killed his wife, but he gets a nice love letter that absolves him for doing it. And Henry Townshend has to fight some ghosts and kill Walter Sullivan, but nothing really bad happens to him.
Eileen’s case is, I think, one of the more extreme examples of Silent Hill’s relationship with women. What makes it more extreme is Walter Sullivan’s misogyny and our participation in that through the peephole.
So, who is this man and why does he hate women so much?
Walter Sullivan was initially mentioned in a newspaper clipping in Silent Hill 2 and in the Trick of Treat elevator game before becoming the main antagonist of Silent Hill 4.
The clip above details how Walter murdered two children and then said he was possessed by a demon wearing a red hood before killing himself in prison. Walter truly believes that Henry’s apartment is his mother, but in reality, his parents abandoned him when he was born and he then spent years growing up at Wish House, which was an orphanage run by The Order on Toluca Lake.
Childhood trauma made Walter into a serial killer. Does childhood trauma somehow excuse him murdering 21 people and violently attacking Eileen? No.
As The Mother Reborn, Eileen embodies Walter’s original mother who abandoned him. And we see how much Walter hates his original mother in the aftermath of his violent attack on Eileen.
Walter hates women viscerally and his misogyny personifies all of that feeling toward women throughout the series whether it’s Valtiel or the themes present in the other games.
Walter displays it openly and targets Eileen — who we have also spied on.
Am I saying that we, as players, by spying on Eileen are as bad as Walter? No, but I doubt many of us would spy on someone like Eileen in the real world because we know it’s wrong.
Silent Hill 4 turned the male gaze into an unsettling game mechanic, which gives us insight into the power a killer like Walter wields against women.
I really like the Silent Hill series of games and have written about it a lot in the past, but it’s hard to ignore the built-in misogyny.
Women’s bodies are used as tools for the narrative development and to create a sense of visceral body horror that freaks out the player.
And very few female characters in the game really get a chance to fight back, not even Eileen Galvin with her ability to literally hit back against the monsters around her. At the end of the game, she taps into some latent mothering instinct and even feels bad for Walter.
Why the hell should she feel bad for Walter? He beat the crap out of her, left her for dead, and planned to kill her using literal Death Machine, so he could get the lease on some apartment. She should hate him as much as Heather hates Claudia Wolf.
Anyway, I still really like Silent Hill 4 and recognize that the series is in the “psychological” horror genre, but the way it interacts with women’s bodies is kinda bleh. A lot of people will excuse the series by saying, oh, well, Valtiel is just using his powers to enhance the fears of a character like Heather Mason. It’s all just part of the story. No one gets hurt. Why’re you making me question my enjoyment of a game series that seems to employ misogyny as the central motivation for most of its villains?
This reflection also gives me a bit more of an appreciation for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which delves a little deeper into Harry Mason’s psychological state before revealing, spoilers, that the whole game was just Cheryl Mason talking to a menacing psychiatrist… wait a minute, spying in on a young woman’s psychiatric appointment is kinda troubling too now that I mention it… what the hell Silent Hill.