Silent Hill: Dying Inside
Writer: Scott Ciencen
Artist: Ben Templesmith and Aadi Salman
By Morphine Jim
Silent Hill is regarded as one of the cream of the crop when it comes to survival horror video gaming. The original game, released on Sony's Playstation console, was a lesson in psychological fear, relying on atmosphere as opposed to shocks to create a masterpiece of fear for the cerebral gamer. Having spawned three sequels, the Silent Hill franchise retains a respectable legacy, despite accusations of being a somewhat stale experience nowadays.
The games revolve around the lakeside resort town of Silent Hill, telling the stories of those unfortunate enough to be sucked into its empty, fog covered streets. There's a rich backstory to the town, with its dark history of atrocity and murder, drug running and cultist influences — but as much as we knew about Silent Hill, much more is hinted at, hidden and left to our imaginations, opening itself to much interpretation. With such a terrific backdrop and plenty of artistic license to play with, a comic book can do practically anything it wants to add its own grim story to the Silent Hill legacy. Cue writer Scott Ciencen and IDW publishing's graphic novel, Silent Hill: Dying Inside.
Dying Inside first came as a five-issue mini-series and tells a two-part story that link together. The first part is about Dr. Troy Abernathy, a renowned therapist whose life has become a soulless pursuit of glory, alcohol and women since the suicide of his wife. His life takes a devastating turn for the worse, however, when he encounters a patient who's delusions seem incurable — plagued by hallucinations of depraved monsters, the patient is "fine" at best when totally drugged up. The root of her problem seems to be buried in the sleepy town of Silent Hill, where she visited to do some filming before she went mental. Suspecting that she was raped, or saw some brutal murder while in Silent Hill, Dr. Abernathy decides to bring her to the town that seems to have affected her and prove that there's nothing evil there. Naturally, when Troy reaches the source of his patient's nightmares, things go the way of the almighty fuck up, and he too becomes a victim of the town that takes.
In the second half of our story, we meet a gang of punks, chief among them being a girl named Lauryn, who come into possession of a videotape that shows Dr. Abernathy's grisly demise at the hands of a strange little girl and the horrors of Silent Hill. With the promise of money if they can get evidence of some of the weird goings on in the town, the kids decide to visit the place themselves and once again fall prey to the madness, with some plot twists along the way, and plenty of violence.
It's hard to describe my feelings about this story. For one thing, there's a lot of potential in there. It's fairly interesting in places, with some good ideas, but it lacks build, it lacks development. It also really loses itself once the second story kicks in. The first part, though rushed, is a strong start. Troy is an interesting character, and his experience are classic Silent Hill fair — succumbing to his own guilt that the town's dug up to use against him, coming face to face with his own failings as a person. Once the second story comes in, all that is lost and it just degenerates into pointless violence and ridiculous warblings. That's not to say it suddenly turns into complete garbage, but the second half is purile in comparison.
Taken as a whole, even with the Dr. Abernathy portion of the story, it's still difficult to accept this as a legitimate Silent Hill story. For one, it lacks the atmosphere, the creeping sensation of fear that the games have always been about. As soon as Dr. Abernathy sets foot in Silent Hill, he's attacked by monsters, faces off against freaks and zombies and shouts "fuck" at every given opportunity. That's simply not what Silent Hill is about, and he seems to completely miss both the point and an opportunity to capitalize on the rich background thrown before the writer. There's no subtlety, no style, it's just an assault of splatter and gross-out moments. Dying Inside seems intent on making itself look cool as opposed to creepy. That's what Resident Evil is about — that cool in a cheesy way attitude. That's where you go for the instantly gratifying viscera and explosions. Silent Hill is about slow building, human introspection and warring realities, not corny lines and shooting anything that moves. To be frank, the writing comes off as immature. Clearly Ciencen has seen and liked the games from his writing, but he just as clearly doesn't seem to understand what they're supposed to be about.
It gets worse the further you go into it, eventually devolving into complete nonsense as Ciencen starts throwing any old gibberish into the pot to see what happens. Even as a non-fan, you'd be hard pressed to take much of what goes on in the latter portion of the comic seriously, and anything other than somebody making stuff up as he goes along to fit in with whatever he's trying to convey. It doesn't help that it all feels so rushed, as if he's trying to fit in as many ideas as possible into just five issues, which would be easier if a lot of the frames weren't just attempted sound bites and swearing. Honestly, the swearing was also a big factor in demeaning this title, along with the reliance on gore.
Maybe I'm being more critical as a somewhat hardcore fan of the video games, but then again, this is surely the demographic this comic should be appealing to, and as such, more than this collection of grisly moments and gratuity was needed to impress. That's not to say this comic is a complete failure, as I say, at least the first two issues stuck very, very loosely to the classic Silent Hill themes, and there are some nice moments throughout, but it literally could've been set anywhere and still have been the same comic — except I wouldn't have read it. It just feels so cheap when compared to the games it's based on. There's no real intrigue, nothing to ponder; it's just an assault that, while solid on its own merits, just doesn't hold up without anything really compelling to justify it.
The artwork was drawn by two people. Ben Templesmith did issues 1 and 2 whereas Aadi Salman did issues 3 through 5. Both artists do a great job with their work, but again, it's not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect for a Silent Hill comic. That said, Templesmith does a good job at capturing the feel of the town itself, even if he doesn't convey the atmosphere very well, and Salman's work is very moody and gritty in places. Of note to Silent Hill fans are various nods to the series' monsters and settings, with signs pointing to places such as Levin Street and Midwich Elementary as well as various beasts that have appeared in the games — most notably the infamous Pyramid Head. This is, however, a bit of a flaw, as the monsters have always been there for a reason, and are seemingly unique to each visitor of Silent Hill. There actually shouldn't be any Pyramid Heads or little phalli with legs running around, there should be new, exclusive monsters. The change in style halfway through is also pretty unsettling, and breaks any sense of unity in the story. If I had to choose one consistent artist, I'd go with Templesmith, as although Salman's work is good, Templesmith's somewhat bizarre style does a much better job of providing depth and atmosphere to the story, even if it still doesn't manage to convince.
As a Silent Hill fan, I wasn't thrilled by this. I don't think a fan of comics in general would by wowed by this one either, as the whole thing seems too rushed and inane — whether it's being compared to a video game or not. It's pure silliness. While not inherently bad, but still silliness. The fact that it's based on Silent Hill just makes it all the more glaring a problem. I wish I could say this wasn't disappointing, but it was on several levels, as both a fan of the games and someone expecting a more mature, brooding type of read. I got nothing of the sort, just a collage of blood and halfcocked craziness. It's okay as a cheap bit of trashy entertainment, but nothing beyond that. Silent Hill: Dying Inside, is really difficult to recommend to fans of anything, it pains me to say.
"Oh honey, I love you so much I could just fuckin' die. No wait, did that. Your turn" — Julianna Abernathy