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Video Game Films: Not Just Popcorn Fluff

September 9th, 2009 4:12pm EDT
GamerSure, many movies based on video games are just that- game play on screen without a controller. We could spend all day listing more than twenty years' worth of these films including 'Super Mario Brothers', 'Mortal Kombat' films, a slew of 'Pokemon' releases, the 'Tomb Raider' films, 'Final Fantasy', 'Resident Evil' films, 'Silent Hill', 'Doom', 'Bloodrayne', 'Hitman', 'Max Payne', and 'Street Fighter' films. The larger question asks, do they have the potential to be more than just idle game play on screen? The answer is sometimes.

The release of 'Gamer', the next in line for the geniuses behind the 'Crank' series, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, helps illustrate that these films have the potential to break one of the stereotypes of the genre; that they are popcorn films. While viewers would argue that 'Gamer' is an anomaly, we argue that it isn't. For proof we decided to take a look at one of the lesser known, not well received films from the above list- 'Silent Hill'. It is a film loosely based on the video game, which also finds its place within the horror genre. The following is what we saw.

Silent Hill continues the horror genre's genealogical line of mother/daughter relationships and family as the central focus. Unlike Carrie and The Exorcist however, it expands beyond the motif of the female child as a demonic figure. The mother figure is constructed as monstrous, but the definition of what 'mother' is moves beyond traditional narratives. The idea of the power of the patriarchal figures is also challenged in these films, as the father figures are placed around the fringes of the space of the film, both physically and emotionally. The representation of the patriarchal figure- typically a overtly strong character in video game narratives to encourage the male demographic to keep buying and watching- become almost completely emasculated in the context of the film.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill © TriStar Pictures

The nuclear family, constructed of a mother, father, and children, is precisely what is at stake in the film. Silent Hill begins with the depiction of a family together, working to come to the root of their daughter's almost fatal sleepwalking and psychological trauma. The daughter Sharon, like Carrie and Reagan, is thought to be possessed. She is possessed and driven by images of the town of Silent Hill, not by the devil. It is her possession that fractures and ultimately breaks apart their nuclear family.

Since Sharon was adopted and is therefore not a biological child of Rose, the father is left in the dark and out of their journey to Silent Hill. The mother is still invested in the child, taking on the role of mother as if Sharon was her own offspring. Her role as adoptive mother is shown to "trump" that of her husband as adoptive father by stating, "Mother is God in the eyes of a child." Her statement not only gives power to the mother over the father, but gives the female a supernatural power, the idea of a female as supreme and omnipresent ruler- yet another anomaly within the video game traditional narrative. Rose is tortured by both the house and 'maternal legacy'. She is hopelessly imprisoned within a perimeter- the town of Silent Hill and then her house. Ultimately the film gains its value in the horror genre by becoming horrifying on a sociological level and not so much through the explicit gore and violence that is heavily expected from the core viewing and game playing demographic.


The next questions, which will be addressed in the second part of this piece, take up the difference between the viewers of these films and the gamers themselves. Why do gamers ignore this film genre and those who produce these films, particularly Uwe Bolt? Should the difference between films based on a video game (like 'Silent Hill') and films with a video game aesthetic ('Gamer', 'District 9', and the 'Crank' films) be regarded within different subgenres?

Sarah Lafferty
Story by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer

Follow Sarah on twitter at starbuckscout.