One of my favorite horror films of all time is the 2006 adaptation of the Silent Hill video game series. For a film adaptation of a video game series, it pays excellent homage to the themes and messages of the first few entries in Silent Hill. One of these is discussing the matter of religion, especially self-righteous fanaticism and hypocrisy, which features most prominently in Silent Hill 3.
(Naturally, this blog post will spoil the entire plot of the Silent Hill film.)
In the town of Silent Hill, reality is frequently warped and distorted into nightmarish altered versions. Within the video games, the appropriately-named Fog World is the most common version of reality that the main characters traverse. Within the dense, swirling fog, the streets of the city become deserted and ruined, besides the occasional monster born from the psyches of those wandering.
There is another form of Silent Hill, easily its most infamous incarnation. This is known as the Otherworld, a hellish realm manifested from the nightmares and delusions of the people dwelling within its borders. Typically, there is little-to-no warning given for the horrific transition from the Fog World to the Otherworld. Often times, the only warning one will ever receive is a baleful siren echoing throughout Silent Hill.
In the 2006 film version, similar to the original Silent Hill game in 1999, the iterations of both the Fog World and Otherworld are based off of the psyche of Alessa Gillespie. Alessa, like her original incarnation in the first Silent Hill, is a young girl with inexplicable supernatural abilities. As such, she’s constantly ostracized and bullied by her peers, an aspect of the original game’s lore amplified for the plot of the film.
When Rose, the protagonist of the film, goes off into the town searching for her missing daughter (who’s the manifested benevolent portion of Alessa’s soul), she encounters Dahlia Gillespie. Dahlia is a broken shell, wandering the streets of the decrepit town, forsaken by the other inhabitants for cryptically calling them out for their transgressions.
Dahlia, the mother of Alessa, is the Cassandra of Silent Hill, the person spouting the truth but believed by nobody. She’s the one who knows why Silent Hill transformed into a living nightmare, but it isn’t until later in the film that the truth of her warnings are made manifest.
(Content Warning for explicit violence in this next clip.)
Within the church, a false sanctuary, we first meet the leader of the religious fanatics, Christabella. It’s here that Rose and the audience learn of this group’s collective and toxic martyr complex, their belief that it’s them against the rest of the world.
It’s implied during Rose’s visit to the dilapidated school that the cult is in direct control of everything within. This is confirmed when it’s revealed in a flashback that Christabella, Alessa’s self-righteous aunt, who also serves as the school’s headmaster, was directly responsible for the little girl’s suffering.
This could’ve been an opportunity for true righteousness and compassion to shine through, especially after knowing how much torment Alessa had suffered in her school. Christabella instead tricks Dahlia into letting Christabella and the others “purify this filth”. Dahlia blindly trusted her sister’s apparently holy intentions, to her everlasting despair.
Because Alessa was born out of wedlock, never knowing who her father was, Christabella and the rest of her religious order viewed her as “sin incarnate”. They declared her to be a witch, and used their condemnation as justification for immolating her.
This is what leads to Silent Hill in the film becoming the hellish alternate reality that Rose explores. Alessa’s suffering vastly amplified her latent abilities, and enabled her to transform the town into a projection of her suffering, dragging the cultists into it forever. This includes Dahlia, though it’s made clear that Alessa refuses to enact vengeance against her. Although she knows that her mother was unwittingly complacent in her suffering, Alessa still loves her, and refuses to let anybody or anything harm her.
Of note is the fact that in the film, not all of the original inhabitants of Silent Hill were dragged into this hellish alternate reality. The officers who came to her rescue and the rest of the population who had no hand in her suffering were allowed to leave the town after the fire created by Christabella and the others permanently ruined the area. These were the truly righteous members of Silent Hill, and it’s because of their aversion to the evil perpetrated by these fanatics that they’re able to go on with their lives.
When Rose learns the entire truth behind Silent Hill, she goes to confront Christabella and the rest of the fanatics. What ensues is one of the greatest cinematic shutdowns against religious hypocrisy.
Christabella and the rest of her order are a cinematic analogy for the Pharisees, the religious scholars who opposed Jesus and eventually pushed for His execution. This particular verse from the Book of Matthew, Jesus’s own words against His opponents, fits these wretches perfectly:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”(Matthew 23:27)
Both the Pharisees and Christabella’s group are indicative of real-world hypocrites who give themselves the authority to judge the worth of everybody who doesn’t fit their worldviews. The Westboro Baptist Church quickly comes to mind as an easy Christian extremist group to compare this cinematic cult with. Their disturbingly extreme “us vs. them” mentality is eerily similar to the drivel spouted by Christabella.
It bears mentioning that the young woman in this clip, Megan Phelps-Roper, is no longer a member of Westboro, and has spoken out on her family’s beliefs. She has absolutely turned herself around, and has become a shining example of humility and true love for others.
What is righteousness? Is it something we define for ourselves, a terrible mistake that groups like the WBC and other groups like the cult in Silent Hill continue to make? After all, when we define righteousness for ourselves, we give justification for our own transgressions against others. God Himself has given us the definition of true, justice-loving righteousness by His sacrifice and love for all. We can always see who among us embodies His righteousness, or their own self-deluded version.