Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Resident Evil

Films: Resident Evil
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, the fact that I worked in the computer/video game industry from 1991 to 2003 becomes relevant on this blog. I was working in the industry when the Resident Evil games came out, and was still working (and starting to look at other options) in the industry when Resident Evil was released in movie theaters. I didn’t go see it, and I never played any of the games. In my own defense, by this point in my career, I only played what I was paid to play. Resident Evil could well have been something I wrote the book for, though; I did more than my share of first-person shooters.

Resident Evil was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who is clearly the least of the three most-known current director with that last name (Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson being the other two). While I admit that that is true, I still have a soft spot for Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies in a lot of cases. Mortal Kombat is better than it should be, Event Horizon is vastly underknown, and I am admittedly and strangely obsessed with Soldier. Because of this, I went into Resident Evil with some hopes and some curiosity. It was a mild connection to my past and I like the director in spite of himself and even feel sorry for him at times because he’s gotten unlucky with some films. Then again, he is married to Milla Jovovich, so I’m not going to feel too sorry for him.

Anyway, Resident Evil is based on the video game of the same name. The Umbrella Corporation has created a think tank/lab/evil underground base where genetic research and other fun things are happening. As the film opens, we see someone release a toxin into a lab. The building is quickly shut down and the various people locked inside. While we don’t find this out right away, the computer monitoring/oversight system for the lab (known as The Hive) has decided that everyone in the facility needs to be killed to prevent the infection that has been released from getting out into the wider world.

Enter Alice (Milla Jovovich), who wakes up naked in a bathroom with a severe case of amnesia. She is soon contacted by a team that tells her she works security for Umbrella and that the mansion she is in is the cover for The Hive below. She, a local cop named Matt (Eric Mabius) and the team will be heading into The Hive to figure out what is happening and shut down the computer oversight, nicknamed the Red Queen. Along the way, they encounter Alice’s “husband” Spence Parks (James Purefoy), who lives in the mansion with her as a part of the cover for the lab complex below.

The Resident Evil video game was more or less a straight horror version of games like DOOM, which means that we’re going to get a lot of action. That means we need enemies for our heroes to deal with, which means that the toxin that was released is going to have some interesting things going on. The toxin, known as the T-virus, animates the dead, turning them into zombies, who (like all good movie zombies) pass on their infection with a bite. Resident Evil ups the ante here by making virtually any contact with the undead, say a scratch, being just as eventually lethal.

What I find very interesting here is that there are a few good action set pieces, but Resident Evil doesn’t have a bunch of action. There are some quality moments, but the zombies themselves don’t go down easily, requiring a headshot or something similar to put them down permanently, much like the classic Romero zombie. What the movie does differently is ramp up the amount of zombies very quickly. There is an initial attack by a single zombie, but that is followed by a horde right away, and most of the rest of the attacks will be from groups until we get to the big baddie at the end.

The problem with Resident Evil is that ultimately, it’s not very good. It’s not particularly scary, which is a problem for a horror movie, and there’s not a great deal of action, which makes it less of an action movie than it should be. Our heroine Alice, despite being depicted with a large weapon on the movie poster, never packs anything more than a pistol for the entire film. The team that goes into The Hive with her is whittled down quickly, leaving us with just a couple of them even before we get to any zombies at all, and most of the remaining characters have run out of ammunition pretty much after the first encounter.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not anything it wants to be or promises that it will be. Sadly, that’s kind of a theme with Paul W.S. Anderson films. He’s a guy with a lot of good ideas and doesn’t seem to have a way to get the bat off his shoulder to put those ideas on the screen in a tangible way. Resident Evil has some good ideas, but they’re more in the subtext or something we have to dig to find rather than an explicit part of the story.

It’s also worth noting that the big baddie that attacks at the end of the film is done with CGI that very much looks its age. It might have been great (or at least acceptable) in 2002, but it doesn’t cut it today.

I didn’t hate this, but it didn’t make me want to watch any of the sequels.

Why to watch Resident Evil: Paul W.S. Anderson needs your love.
Why not to watch: It’s not that great.


  1. I love the moment of the movie that serves as your screen cap for this review. Never saw the whole thing in a single sitting (and probably won't, now, thanks to you), but when the above-pictured moment happened in the preview trailer, I laughed and laughed. Dumb and awesome at the same time.

    1. Dumb, yes. Awesome, not so much. There's a reason I don't seek out video game movies.

  2. I'm not much for video games and I've never played Resident Evil. But oh do I love the Resident Evil movies! I didn't get into them until a few years ago but I quickly watched them all on DVD and nowadays, whenever there's a new one, it's an event that MUST be experienced in the theater.

    Maybe it's just to see what Milla as Alice is up to, but I also like it when Ali Larter and Michelle Rodriguez and all the rest show up again.

    Go ahead and start listing off the dumb stuff and all the eye-rolling moments - I'll nod and say "Yeah, that's pretty stupid. So's that. I can't argue about that." And then I'll say "So what?"

    The whole franchise is "dumb and awesome" at the same time.

    I feel the same way about Underworld.

    1. I'm not going to give you any grief about that. I think just about everyone has a few guilty pleasures. As I mentioned above, I am inexplicably a huge fan of Paul W.S. Anderson's Soldier, which is all kinds of dumb.

  3. I've seen and reviewed all the Resident Evil movies. And I've attempted playing a few of the games. Though the games are not first person shooters, nor are they overtly action games (at least at the start). This is how I see the film series:

    -Resident Evil: Most atmospheric and probably the most well-made.
    -Apocalypse: Horrible on rewatch.
    -Extinction: By far the most pointless film in the franchise.
    -Afterlife: Anderson returned to the series and injected some much needed camp back into the series.
    -Retribution: By far the most entertaining film in the franchise, even though it's not a good movie. I definitely recommend this one if you want a fun, campy RE flick.
    -The Final Chapter: Easily the worst film in the franchise, because the editing is so bad, it makes Birdemic look masterclass. It's truly something that needs to be seen to be believed, and I'm honestly not sure why it isn't talked about more. Think the end of the "Roxanne" scene in Moulin Rouge, but for the whole movie, and not done with remotely the same skill.

    The crazy thing about these movies is that every film more or less retcons what happened before it. The beginning usually picks up close to where the previous cliffhanger left off and this discards it within 5 minutes and moves on, changing everything about the story, the world, the characters, and everything. It's so bizarre to see that happen film after film, like they literally changed the direction they wanted to go in with every movie but never answering questions or missing characters left by previous films.

    1. I appreciate your perspective on this. In all honesty, I'm unlikely to dive back into this end of the swimming pool any time soon.

      For my money, one of the better horror-based computer/video games was Clive Barker's Undying, which was sadly underplayed. The original Alone in the Dark game was pretty great, too--and that's arguably the worst ever video game-to-movie adaptation in history.

    2. I could see that argument. As someone who has watched the majority of video game movie adaptations, I can say Alone in the Dark is probably in the Top 5 worst, but there is definitely worse.

    3. It's too bad--the video game was a revelation.