On Resident Evil

While Doom was not so sure it was really a film based on the Doom game, Resident Evil, on the other hand, was aware of it’s origins, and used them well. The film features Milla Jovovich (The Fifth ElementUltraviolet), and is directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Event Horizon). According to the Bloody Disgusting article, “In Defense of ‘Resident Evil’ (2002)“:

If history has taught us anything, it’s that a video game adaptation can bring in a lot of money. Folks seem to enjoy watching them despite their near-universally abysmal quality. Resident Evilhad made just short of a billion dollars at the box office since it debuted a decade earlier in 2002. That’s no easy feat, but what’s even more impressive is every sequel managed to make more money than the last, at least until the latest sequel ruined everything.

I take that back. It’s not that impressive.

Keep throwing more and more money at a franchise that’s recognized around the world and make sure the last two films benefit from the ridiculously inflated 3D ticket prices and there’s a good chance you’ll see similar results.

Transformers has already shown us that people are more than willing to turn up in droves to watch the third/fourth/fifth installment in a series that’s been consistently awful if there’s a widely recognized name attached to it.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single person left that does more than tolerate the Resident Evil films. They either died off or went into hiding after Retribution released. I wanted to make sure of this before I stuck my neck out again after my valiant unnecessary defense of Silent Hill, which sparked a discussion that read something like “We actually love this movie, you stupid dickface.”

I’m willing to endure those nasty comments about because Resident Evil is a film that’s had an indelible mark on a younger me. The film released when I was in the 8th grade, when I was aspiring to become a film director. I’d spend a majority of the following four years writing stories of my own, and as much as I wish it weren’t true, this movie affected me.

Resident Evil isn’t a “good” film, and I’m not just defending it because of its gargantuan impact on me. There’s something here that often gets overlooked, even by me. Let’s dig into it, shall we?

One of the most memorable scenes in this movie is, to me, one of its most unconventional.

Usually, spooky scary movies with smaller casts — like this one — are in no hurry to pick off their limited cast of characters. Each one is meant to expire in a way that will satisfy the viewer, and that can only happen after we’ve been given the chance to care about them — or after we’ve seen them in their birthday suit grinding up against another character we’re supposed to care about.

Resident Evil‘s answer to this is the laser hall, a corridor of mirrors and magic that unleashes mildly easy-to-dodge death beams to give anyone trapped inside hope before following those up with a grid of white-hot death no one can escape. This death corridor easily picks off four of the characters we were just introduced to, forcing the survivors to kick into Survival mode. It’s a nifty scene because it’s where everything goes completely off the rails.

Look back at all of the scary movies you’ve watched. Most will have a scene — it could be as simple as a car breaking down in a forest at night — early on where something happens that helps our “heroes” realize they’re in actual danger. From there, the goal is to survive.

This isn’t a new concept, but the laser hall has been one of the better takes on it. It takes all of two minutes for the team leader to get reduced to a pile of people chunks on the floor next to what used to be the team medic and two other soldiers. The survivors are left traumatized and fragmented, and the scene that follows gets in another curve ball.

Gamers went into this movie expecting it to be about zombies, but the real threat is really the Red Queen, a rogue AI that serves as a ruthless, logic god complete with a god-like control over the secret underground facility Alice and Friends are trapped inside of.

Some of my favorite things about this movie will only be obvious if you’re a seasoned fan of the genre or if you know where to look. Paul W.S. Anderson scattered numerous subtle nods to the video games, a symbolic tribute to Alice in Wonderland and even a few homages to classic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Cube all over this movie.

I don’t imagine any of that would change your mind if you’ve already decided you hate this film, but it does offer an idea of what Anderson was initially going for with his take on the games.

If we were talking about any other Resident Evil movie, this would be the part where I start ranting about how bad they are at casting actors who share even the smallest resemblances to their virtual counterparts. Unlike every sequel that followed it, the first film didn’t use zombies, monsters, or horrific miscasting (I’m looking at you, Chris) to brutalize fan favorite characters from the games.

Jovovich had mastered the art of kicking ass on-screen (multi-pass!) prior to her portrayal of Alice, so the level of badassitude she brought to that character didn’t ever feel forced. The same goes for her gradual transformation from a lady who fell in the shower to fearless group leader. I can’t think of another actress who would match Jovovich’s ability to kick mountains of ass without sacrificing likability, and that’s an important trait for a femme fatale who can break necks with her thighs.

This movie also gifted us with Rain, played by Michelle Rodriguez, who I love, even though I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s a time witch. She doesn’t age, and it freaks me out.

Rain immediately stood out to me because, like Alice, she’s an original creation. She wasn’t torn from the games just so she could be shoehorned into the story in some lazy way. Rain is just as strong as some of the most unforgettable lady heroes from the games.

She had the potential to be more than that, but we probably won’t see that potential realized since the films are slated to wrap up next year.

Remember when I said Resident Evil is most successful when it strives to be unconventional, and that it doesn’t pursue its good ideas often enough? If you answered yes, then bear with me while I try and compare this movie to a sandwich. Killing off a third of the cast made things exciting early on. It’s a harsh scene that sets up an exponentially more bleak ending, which sees Alice escape the Hive facility, alone, just so she can continue her adventure in a city that’s dealing with a zombie apocalypse of its own.

I love bleak endings. They’re used so rarely these days that it makes the rare time when a film does it well all the more special.

Also worth mentioning is the soundtrack, which was scored by Marco Beltrami (Scream 1-4) and Marilyn Manson. It’s largely comprised of a mixed bag of tracks from various rock and metal artists, but there are a few original works mixed in there and they’re all great.

An elite special ops team that’s sent in to investigate strange happenings, characters plagued by amnesia so they can remember crucial information when it helps move that plot along, hordes of flesh-eating zombies, a malevolent rogue AI that invests about as much thought into suffocating a room-full of scientists as you or I would put into squishing a cockroach — Resident Evil has an annoying tendency to be generic.

It can also be different and even effective, when it wants to be. It’s riddled with technical and creative issues and it’s not at all what we expected from a Resident Evil movie in 2002, but it’sfun. It’s a crazy, gory and sometimes even deliciously cheesy roller coaster ride with a few well-crafted scares, some stylishly choreographed fight scenes and more zombies than you can shake a spiked bat at.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget about the Wire fu.


According to the Chicago Tribune review:

No doubt some parents will say that “Resident Evil” represents everything wrong with America. A few film critics might even say this zombie splatterfest epitomizes everything that’s wrong with movies.

Sure, “Resident Evil” is proudly, unflinchingly violent and beats its audience into submission with a soundtrack several decibels too loud.

And yes, it’s a sequel-ready franchise, based on yet another video game and aimed at 14-year-old boys who aren’t old enough to see the film under its “R” rating.

First and foremost, however, “Resident Evil” is a genre film, the cinematic child of James Cameron’s “Aliens” and George Romero’s horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.”

It’s an old formula in video game clothing, and far livelier than Simon West’s sterile adaptation of “Tomb Raider.” On its own terms, “Resident Evil” updates the zombie genre with an anti-corporate message while still scaring its audience and providing heart-pounding action.

Milla Jovovich (“The Fifth Element”) stars as Alice, a woman who may or may not have something to do with the deadly contamination of a military research plant called the Hive — an underground bioengineering experiment facility controlled by a mega-conglomerate, the Umbrella Corporation. She doesn’t even know the truth herself, as her memory returns in bits after she’s been gassed by the Red Queen supercomputer, the HAL-like digital guardian of the Hive.

Joined by paramilitary operatives (including “Girl Fight’s” Michelle Rodriguez) and a gun-toting wild card, Matt (Eric Mabius), Alice uncovers Umbrella Corporation’s darkest secrets when its mysterious T-virus reanimates the inhabitants of the Hive as flesh-eating zombies. Alice and company, of course, are the blue plate special and can be infected themselves with the slightest scratch or bite from the ambling undead.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Mortal Kombat,” “Event Horizon”) crafts a pictureseething with a modern too-coolness while genre splicing the worlds of sci-fi, action and horror.

By robbing his central character of a history, Anderson pins an entire movie on someone an audience can never really identify with. However, the short-term amnesia conceit allows viewers to experience the film as it unravels, from an almost first-person point of view.

On this count, “Resident Evil” is one of the few video game movies to truly re-create the gaming experience — from the three-dimensional maps to the structure of encountering increasingly grisly and dangerous foes at higher levels of play.

Thematically, “Resident Evil” hums along on its anti-big business message, right up to a surprise — and moralistic — ending. However, it’s never quite clear whose side the computer is on or why it gassed Alice in the first place.

As in video games, the characters are thinly drawn. But they are disposable anyway, though several scenes reinforce the value (and resourcefulness) of their life when characters choose a near-futile fight over suicide. This makes us root for them even more, wishing we could escape walking death so slyly and look as cool doing it.



4 thoughts on “On Resident Evil

  1. Pingback: On Resident Evil: Apocalypse | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Resident Evil: Extinction | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: On Resident Evil: Afterlife | The Progressive Democrat

  4. Pingback: On Resident Evil: Retribution | The Progressive Democrat

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