In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
NB: There are no jokes about that Tommy Wiseau movie.
Next year will be the tenth anniversary of Silent Hill 2 and while itís definitely a cause for celebration, itís sadly been an albatross to the franchise since then. None have had to deal with that bird more so than Silent Hill 4: The Room. Youíve probably heard by fans that it ďwasnít in the spirit of Silent HillĒ, but you have to question what that means sometimes.
ďIn spirit...Ē can be narrow-mindedly the same as ďplaying it safeĒ.
In fairness, The Room was critically derided for some bad design issues on release; a retread of locations in the second half, an inventory where space negates size and backtracking fetch quests. Though truth be told, if Silent Hill 2 or Deadly Premonition can be lauded for their themes despite the flaws, why hasnít The Room been treated with similar respect?
Unconcerned with the usual survival horror tropes, the developers for The Room seemed far more interested in commenting on mundane trappings and itís progression into voyeurism, whilst existentially questioning what the difference is between Ďhousesí and Ďhomesí. Horror films and videogames are usually about the invasion of personal sanctuary, yet with The Room, itís a story about wanting to get out.
A home ceases to be one when itís deemed just a living space; a literal prison. In the opening sequences, youíre confronted with chains on the front door. While portrayed as a visual set-up, itís also a reinforcement of the narrative themes. Eventually, when you leave Room 302 for Otherworld, youíll always find bigger enclosure waiting for you.
Room 302 is lifeless, mundane and plain; nothing particularly important and yet elevated to being special by the antagonist, to the point where he labels it as a person (ďMotherĒ). Itís a dead place, even before you start exorcising spirits. Theoretically, maybe the developers were trying to point the domestic nihilism thatís prevalent to anyone when they first move in.
Except with added ghosts.
Then, of course, thereís the discovery of a hole in the bathroom that leads to twisted, colourful versions of the outside world. Itís such a wonderfully rich idea thatís somewhat unexpected of a videogame.
Even in these worlds, youíre not really required to do much other than witness several murders. As Henry Townshend, youíre the final victim in a serial killerís ritual and all you can do is watch, learn and figure a way out. So, The Room is heavily dependent on voyeurism. More so than your usual shutterbug videogame, like Dead Rising.
Throughout the story, you helplessly watch tenants in the hallway, have a restricted view of the street and eventually use a crack in the wall to catches glimpses of Henryís neighbour, Eileen Galvin. Itís unsurprising that you visit a panopticon prison tower and the apartment building, South Ashfield Heights, shares a similar design aesthetic.
As a player, you become interested in seeing what the other tenants do after each completed trip; yet theyíre usually acting normal, against your horror preconceptions. Take away the imprisonment factor and itís still fascinating to watch virtual people act out everyday tasks. Voyeurism is a part of human nature and The Room plays up to that idea at every turn, making sure to involve you at every turn.
Fans decry Henry Townshend as a blank protagonist and thatís the point. Heís solely required, like the player, to acquire knowledge of the situation by watching events unfold. For it to work, the majority of the narrative is played out in a first person perspective.
Technically, thatís not really Henry obsessively spying on Eileen, thatís you.
Itís a compelling way of becoming close to a supporting character and intimately putting the player into Henryís predicament. Akira Yamaoka has gone on record as saying that cast were weak, but itís hard to agree with him when you help Eileen and learn more about the antagonist, Walter Sullivan.
Walter is deranged enough to believe that Room 302, the room he was abandoned in as a child, is actually his mother. It might seem intentionally post-modern for the sake of the plot, but thereís a sense that it comes from a nihilistic way of thinking; how we label objects and give them emotional weight. Thereís a provocative parallel at work too that makes it a horror story for both the protagonist and antagonist; one wants out of the trappings of a lonely apartment and the other wants in because heís afraid of the real world, respectively.
Thereís so much more to discuss about The Room and even after all these years, a replay can still highlight new insight, e.g. literally going down into a killerís mind, the secret room, the web of relationships between the tenants, etc.
Itís also a perfect companion to Silent Hill 2, aside from the direct connections. Scratch the vague metaphorical surfaces and both videogames are really about the trappings of domestic life.
Itís just a shame (that old chestnut) we, as gamers or critics, sometimes pick and choose what survives derision based on peer comparison or design choices. Personally, thereís a firm belief that there will never be another game like Silent Hill 4: The Room. Itís thoroughly unique, and while we shouldnít whitewash the flaws or demand ďsome goddamn respectĒ like John Malkovich in In The Line of Fire, we should always remember why it hasnít been emulated since.