Reviewed by John Hussey
With the recent release of both RESIDENT EVII: Biohazard and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter it seems fitting to have a bit of a RESIDENT EVIL month. I’ve already given my verdict on the latest video game instalment, so now it’s time to tackle the questionable film series, starting with the first one, Resident Evil.
It’s seems strange to think that the first adapted film came out nearly fifteen years ago when I was still in school (how times have changed). As I noted in my RESIDENT EVII: Biohazard review I wasn’t the biggest fan of the franchise, simply observed it when I was a kid, and played it when I could. But I was still enough of a fan to get excited over a live-action adaption. Unfortunately I was still naïve to the fact that the film industry just doesn’t understand how to make a faithful adaption of a video game.
I will give Resident Evil this, it has a fantastic opening scene that sets the tone and style of the rest of the film. It’s certainly tragic and very suspenseful. What adds to the drama is the lack of understanding of just what the hell is going on. We see a mysterious figure stealing the T-Virus but not before releasing some of it into the atmosphere to cover his escape. The resultant action causes a chain of events which ultimately kills every single worker within the secret underground research facility known as Hive.
But none of the deaths are particularly quick, with some being drowned in a contained room, others being gassed, whilst other’s are trapped in suspended lifts awaiting to be dropped. The worst death came with the suspenseful decapitation of a woman who attempts to escape one of the lifts through a gap when suddenly the lift begins to move (and you can fill in the gap).
We then cut to our heroine, Alice. This becomes the first problem of the film as we see no appearance from any of the characters seen within the original game. No Chris Redfield. No Jill Valentine. No Albert Wesker. No motherfucking Barry Burton and his infamous Jill-Sandwich! It makes me wonder sometimes why filmmakers bother to adapt things when they aren’t interested in respecting the original product. Either-way, Alice wakes up in the mansion where it’s quickly deduced that she’s suffering from amnesia and has no recollection of recent events.
Though it has to be noted that Alice’s first scene is her lying naked in a shower. Of all the places she could be found passed out it had to be here. Whatever is necessary to distract the hard-core fan-boys from realising their beloved franchise is being tarnished. Alice wonders around the abandoned mansion and is scared by the cheapest of jump-scares (which sadly becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the rest of the film). I will admit that writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson nailed this first act in displaying a slight eeriness and suspense as the plot’s meaning is slowly revealed.
Unfortunately things don’t stay that way for long and the tonal shift is quickly noticed as the film becomes an action flick, accompanied by repetitive metal riffs to make each action moment seem overly cool and impressive. Another thing the film failed upon was its unique setting, i.e. the mansion, in which was a integral part of the original game. It was almost an extra character that added to the atmosphere of the suspenseful horror story. Here the mansion is bland and underused, quickly skimmed over to move the narrative downstairs into the Hive.
We have yet more unrelated Resident Evil characters introduced but the film is cheeky enough to force them into the plot by having them be members of the Umbrella Corporation. So far the only thing the film has got right is displaying the corporation as a corrupt power-house that deals with illegal materials. The film progresses nicely and becomes an operations film as the special taskforce breaches the research facility and tries dealing with the Red Queen, a highly intelligent computer system that runs the Hive. By now we should all be aware that trusting artificial intelligence is a very bad idea.
The film tries to remind the audience that this is in fact still a horror movie by having continuous jump-scares and elements of suspense as we slowly learn that things aren’t what they seem in the twisted environment of the underground facility. One of the best scenes of the film has to be the taskforce trying to get into the Red Queen’s control room but are met with a security system that quickly cuts them down to size. However, this scene annoys me on two fronts, 1) I really liked James “One” Shade, played by Colin Salmon, because he was a bad-arse and 2) By killing off the majority of the taskforce it left hardly anyone to combat the infected hordes that came afterwards.
You have to laugh at a zombie movie when it takes forty minutes to introduce its very first zombie. And of course a lot is riding on this important moment as it’s riding on the back of Resident Evil and its infamous zombie unveiling. So does this film adaption do that moment justice? Of course not. But at least we can give it a half-arsed applaud for at least trying. Honestly by this point I stopped expecting anything grand and just went along with the generic action sequences and bland narrative.
The suspense becomes rather pitiful when there’s barely anyone left to kill off. Only one taskforce member is eaten alive, and even then his corpse seems perfectly fine when he returns later on to attack his remaining team-mates (did the zombies even attempt to eat him or did they just want to play pile-on?) Then when you’ve got the likes of Alice who’s a clear Marry-Sue, along with Rain Ocampo’s tough girl act, you get the feeling that these characters are untouchable.
Honestly, Michelle Rodriguez‘s performance is the highlight of the film. Best known as Letty Ortiz from The Fast and the Furious franchise, Rodriguez is talented at performing the independent female badass (a perfect representation of how women can be even tougher than men) and here she goes to even greater extremes. I’m sure the film just wants to see how many times Rain can get bitten before she finally succumbs to death, and even then she still has one last moment of laying out a wise-crack when Alice tries putting her down prematurely, “I’m not dead yet.”
Alice’s character is all over the place within this feature. One minute she’s there to just ask the stupid questions that the audience wants answering and then she’s suddenly an action bitch who can take on anything with absolute ease and precision. Mary-Sue, just saying. Now I do have to give Milla Jovovich credit for making a name for herself from this franchise and creating a female action hero, but unfortunately (for me) Alice’s character always appears rather bland and uninteresting, and her ability to do anything makes it rather difficult to take any life-threatening situation seriously.
Even the editing of the action scenes help to complement her awesome abilities. Whilst we’re on the subject, the action editing is horrendous and constantly fails to put the situations in perspective as you never know how fucked the characters are. One shot will show the zombies being right on top of the characters and the next shot will show Alice freely fighting them off with hand-to-hand combat. What is going on?
I also find the pacing of this film to be rather jarring, almost as if the filmmakers didn’t have a clue what they were doing. First you have a suspenseful beginning, luring you in with mystery and tension, then it turns into an action film containing a stealth operation, before turning into an action-horror flick for the last part, interrupted by the occasional slow burning scene of discovery. The film literally has moment dedicated to characters stopping off and learning about themselves as memory returns and character’s reveal their true intents.
To give the film credit it does have some intriguing pay-offs when revealing the character’s motivations. Alice, in particular, turns out to be a security operative working for Umbrella who decides to betray them in order to exploit their illegal operations. This however goes terribly wrong when her partner, Spence Parks, decides to double-cross her in an attempt to steal the T-Virus for profit, ultimately causing the death of everyone in the facility, and the inevitable outbreak within Raccoon City.
What makes this revelation more humorous is that his character, up till that point, was rather bland, annoying and useless, constantly barking out orders but never doing anything himself. And now in his moment of spotlight, in which he becomes a decent character and a semi-threat, he’s quickly taken out, making his long hard efforts to gain money for his own selfish ambition completely worthless.
The biggest crime of Resident Evil is it doesn’t feel like Resident Evil. Like most video game adaptions the filmmakers take aspects from the game that they like before then tossing it off with half-arsed ideas. It’s almost as if they know they don’t have to make a great movie because the stolen title is enough to attract an audience to make them enough money to get by. But what they fail to realise is that they are constantly pissing off the video game community by disrespecting our culture. If you’re going to adapt one of our classics then at least have the decency to do it right and not just fob us off with a loosely connected by-product.
Literally, this film has little to nothing to do with the original game and insults the iconic game franchise by even uttering its name. The filmmakers have the insult to distract fans with pointless references as if to say, “Look we threw in something familiar, do we get brownie-points?” Well done, you gave us a Licker with some of the worst CGI ever conceived in Hollywood history. It’s kind of cheesy how they build up this lonely Licker as a big baddy for Alice and the remaining character’s to face at the end, almost like a final Resident Evil boss battle.
Further insult ensues when the conclusion points towards a better plot than the one we saw throughout the entire film. The Umbrella Corporation turns up, just as you think survivors Alice and Matt Addison escape the facility in the nick of time, and commence their activities of evil deeds. Matt begins to mutate after being scratched by the Licker and is taken to become part of the “Nemesis” programme (holy shit Nemesis is being hinted at).
Then Alice wakes up in an abandoned hospital where the filmmakers decided to distract the hard-core fan-boys even further with a glimpse at Jovovich’s… bits. Honestly, this entire film is just one big distraction from the fact that it’s a massive pile of wank that doesn’t even closely bare resemblance from its source material. “Look we’ve thrown in a reference here, and over there. Need more? Well we could always distract you with side-boob containing extra hard nipples, flashback sex scenes and the grand-climax, Jovovich’s arsenal.”
Upon exiting the hospital Alice finds herself stood in the middle of an apocalypse as Raccoon City has been devastated by a zombie outbreak. So basically the film ends with, “We could’ve made a great film here but instead we’ll wait for the sequel. Enjoy this nice sexy glimpse of what could be the definitive Resident Evil film.” Resident Evil is an average film and definitely nothing special. It basically panders to the action audience and delivers a “shut your brain off” experience that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. But unfortunately it’s supposed to be Resident Evil and I don’t expect to see a poorly executed script and blandly directed adaption.
Basically if you want a good zombie movie, go look elsewhere. And if you want to experience Resident Evil properly, play the games. And just to show how bad this film really is, Jason Isaac appeared briefly at the end as Dr. William Birkin but conveniently never returned for any of the sequels. Maybe even Isaac knew that this series was destined for only one direction: oblivion.