Reading the reviews of Silent Hill on Netflix, it seems that a very large portion of the viewers couldn’t make any sense of the movie at all. The movie didn’t require the viewer to really know or understand any specific backstory (the characters in the movie are all new) but it does help to have a sense for how these stories work and how Silent Hill (the town) operates.
The movie leaves things very open, but below is my own take on it. Massive spoilers follow.
Sometime in the mid 70’s, the town of Silent Hill was a depressed mining community in West Virgina. The town had a major cult / sect / congregation of believers and zealots that were quite strict and fairly harsh. The story is not explicit, but it seems like a large part of the town must have been part of the cult.
Alessa Gilesspe was a young girl (10-ish) who attended the apparently all-girl parochial school. She seemed to be illegitimate. Dahlia, her mother, was raising Alyessa on her own, and refused to identify the father to the increasingly overbearing church elders. It is unclear why they wanted to know this. Perhaps they suspected that the father was a member of their congregation, and they wanted to identify him so they could punish him for adultery / fornication / or general hitting it without the blessing of the elders.
Eventually they concluded that Alessa must be a witch. (I can’t recall what set this off. If anyone remembers please refresh my memory.) The elders decided to “purify” her. The mother wasn’t even sure what this involved, but she didn’t seem to have much choice. Maybe she hoped they would perform some sort of exorcism and leave it at that, and the elders would leave her alone. Dahlia and Alessa were taken to the hotel, Alessa was taken in, and Dahlia was sent away.
It turned out that “purification” had nothing to do with holy water and praying. It was a gool old-fashioned witch burning. Worse, it wasn’t a quick burning, but a slow roasting over hot coals. It was not clear why the cult favored the slower burning, other than the fact they were evil bastards. Alessa was suspended over a fire and roasted alive.
Part way through the ordeal, one of the chains holding her burning contraption in place failed, and hot coals were scattered all over the floor. A fire was started and a lot of the building was burned. The paramedics rescued Alessa in the mayhem (I guess at least some people in the town were not fully loyal to the cult) and she was taken to the hospital.
She was horribly disfigured and in intense pain as she languished in the intensive care unit. Eventually The Devil (or A devil) showed up, and the story gets even more vague. Apparently the devil made a deal with Alessa: “Let me in, and I’ll give you the power to get revenge.” Perhaps it was her youth and innocence that made the deal possible. Perhaps it was something to do with the cult. Whatever it was, she agreed to it and let the devil in.
Shortly after, there was a fire in the coal mine. Poisonous gas erupted and the town had to be evacuated. Many people died. From the outside, it looked like an empty ghost town.
Inside of Silent Hill, Alessa had dragged her enemies into some alternate hell-world copy of Silent Hill. The cult members thought that the Apocalypse had come and the whole world was covered in darkness. For them, it was. They hid in the Church, where their faith would “keep them safe”.
And as it turns out, it did. Alessa could transform the town of Silent Hill into a world of nightmares and darkness which would kill anyone she wished. The problem was that her darkness could not penetrate the church. Their faith really did keep her out.
Thus began a decades long game of cat-and-mouse, where the people would come out of the church in search of food, and Alessa would try to bring the darkness and catch them before they could return. The town would shift between dark Silent Hill (a place of strange fog and the occasional monster) to evil Silent Hill. (A place of pure torment, evil, and darkness.) Birds seemed to sense that the evil was coming a good 30 seconds before the effects were visible to humans, so they took a page from their mining heritage and carried a canary in a cage. When the bird panicked, they would make a run for it.
Meanwhile, in the real world Silent Hill was just a big empty town. There were no people and the fumes from the coal fires made the place too dangerous to live. It is unclear if time passed at the same rate for the cult members trapped in Alessa’s nightmare town, although the story is a bit easier to understand if we think of the nightmare world as more or less timeless. (Otherwise, most cult members should have died of old age, or at the very least be frail and old by now, since most were middle-aged in the mid 70’s.
Back in the real world:
In the mid 90’s a baby was left of the steps of an orphanage. That baby was eventually adopted by Rose and Christopher Da Silva. The girl had nightmares about the town of Silent Hill, although she had never been there. Desperate for a cure (and in order to get the plot going) Rose took their daughter Sharon to Silent Hill in hopes that she could figure out what made the kid so nuts. Rose, Sharon, and a police officer ended up in some sort of crash just outside of Silent Hill in the real world. When they woke up, they were in dark Silent Hill, and there was fog everywhere. Thus begins the movie.
Let’s switch over to Q & A style here:
Q. What was the connection between Alessa and Sharon? Why did they look the same?
A. The movie hinted that Sharon was what was left of the little girl Alessa. Like, the devil sort of displaced the little girl… so she, like appeared as a baby? Or something.
This is the big mystery of the movie, and it doesn’t really make sense to me. Alessa got reincarnated, or recreated, and got another chance at life as a new baby. She was adopted by the De Silvas who named her Sharon. But her connection to Alessa made her a very sick kid. As she drew near the age that Alessa was when she was roasted, she began to have nightmares of Silent Hill.
Q. How did Rose, Sharon, and the police officer manage to cross into dark Silent Hill? Other people came into SH from time to time and were never dragged into Alessa’s version of the town.
A. Several answers are possible:
Perhaps dark SH is a realm of the dead, and the characters all died in the crash. The only problem with this is that Christopher should have found the SUV with their bodies in it if this was the case. The vehicle was sitting idle in the middle of the only road into town, so it doesn’t seem likely that people in the real world would miss it.
They were all knocked out during the crash. Perhaps it was breathing the poisoned fumes of the mines for a long time that pulled them in. Perhaps sleeping in SH is like sleeping in the snow. You can walk around the town for a short period with no ill effects, but going to sleep will pull you in for good.
My guess is that it was simply being in Sharon’s presence that caused them to cross over. Sharon was connected to Alessa, so being with her at night, in Silent Hill, while she was asleep, was what triggered their crossing over.
Q. At the end, why didn’t Rose and Sharon return to the real world? They left Silent Hill, but the darkness was everywhere once they left town.
A. Remember that during the final moments when Alessa was slaughtering all the cultists with her barbed wire tendrils, Rose told Sharon to close her eyes. Sharon peeked, and when she opened her eye the devil (Alessa) was smiling at her. It seems this let the devil in. This seems like a bit of a cheat on the part of the devil, but works if you accept that her deal with Alessa extended to Sharon. With everyone dead, there was nobody left to torment here. Time to move on and cause trouble elsewhere. When they left town, it wasn’t that the darkness was everywhere, it was that it was following them. It was centered on Sharon now. However, Sharon hadn’t been tormented. She wasn’t full of anger and a desire for revenge. There wasn’t anyone she really wanted to hurt. It is unclear what would happen next. Sharon and Rose were trapped in darkness, but it seems like there would be nothing to trigger the evil that they witnessed in Silent Hill.
Also, remember that Rose let the devil into herself before going to the church. She came back out later, but still: That can’t be good for you. It is also possible that they got stuck in darkness because of this.
Q: What happened in the end when Alessa was able to enter the church?
A: In the outside world, 30 years passed between the time the town was emptied and the start of the movie. It’s difficult to know how long it was for the people in the town, since they seemed to be on a different timeline. In any case, Alessa and the cultists played cat-and-mouse for a long time. She wanted to kill them all, but was only able to nab the slow ones.
She needed a way to get into the church. The devil entered Rose (sort of without her consent, although it seemed sort of harmless) and waited. Rose entered the church and was stabbed. It wasn’t until her tainted blood hit the floor that Alessa had a way in. Now we see their policy of burning witches – while evil and sadistic – was actually useful for fending off evil. If they had burned Rose they may well have remained safe.
Seems like a bit of a gamble on the part of the devil, to count on the cultists breaking tradition and spilling blood. Not that it would have cared about Rose, but chances to get into the church must have been few and far between. It could have improved those odds quite a bit by instructing Rose to bleed a bit once inside.
Perhaps it wasn’t the spilling of blood, but Rose’s own will. Remember that this devil seems to feed off of people’s lust for revenge. It didn’t just show up and start killing people at random. It had to make a deal with an angry child who wanted revenge, and then use her will for revenge. It couldn’t hurt people she didn’t want to hurt, or it couldn’t hurt people unless she had a real grievance against them. It entered Rose, but it didn’t have any power until Rose wanted to kill those cultists herself.
This doesn’t answer all of the questions, but this is how I managed to map the thing out on my own. Other explanations are possible. Your mileage may vary.
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