REvisiting Resident Evil 20 Years later!
Director Paul WS Anderson has achieved a modicum of success from previous films Event Horizon and especially Mortal Kombat, the latter being a Videogame adaptation and despite its family-friendly PG-13 rating and lack of gory "fatalities " Mortal Kombat was well-received among critics and even die-hard MK gamers and purists.
As far as Videogame adaptations go, it was one of the better efforts. Now, fast forward seven years after its release, and Anderson is at it again with 2002's Resident Evil based on the extremely popular Capcom video game series that codified the survival horror subgenre. As a fan of the games, I had no idea what I was getting into when watching this film in the theaters aside from the trailers which did not help much. Originally, Horror legend George A. Romero was intended to write and direct the movie that would have been more faithful toward the game series, but unfortunately, Romero’s script was rejected resulting in him being unceremoniously fired by Capcom. So, enter "Uncle Pauly!"
The movie begins with some narrator detailing the Umbrella Corporation a pharmaceutical industry that under the surface, deals with genetic engineering, military technology, and biological weaponry with the static title " Resident Evil " appears with ominous theme by Marilyn Manson, when the camera zooms in on some Umbrella scientist in full biohazard gear, placing blue and green vials in a metal suitcase, and departs but not before tossing one of the viral contained vials on the hard floor - near the vents!
This was done to clear his escape route knowing full well that the vial's contaminants would set off the company's automated safety protocols from gassing the staff to disabling elevator systems causing it and its passengers to plummet to their deaths. I guess working at the Umbrella facilities is comparable to the Roach Motel if you're familiar with the saying, you would know what I mean, and you're old AF! 😜
Now we see Alice, an amnesiac Security officer under the organization's employ, awakening from her shower who is naked until she happens to find a red dress like Ada Wong in the videogames??
After a brief dialog-free scene, Alice is tackled by some guy wearing business attire. Could he have been some Umbrella employee who managed to escape above ground before all hell broke loose? Is he Chris Redfield? No, it's “Matt the Cop!” who is searching for his missing sister Lisa. So, in order to keep pace with the narrative’s momentum, or prevent boredom, Anderson throws in a dramatic entrance with Tactical geared commandos crashing through the window to apprehend both Matt and Alice.
Manson's score has been amped up to 70 decibels as I can barely hear what's going on. The team is sent to investigate why the "Hive" Umbrella's research compound, had set off its automated defenses so by taking Alice and Matt hostage, they go where danger awaits them.
While there were many who were extremely disappointed in Resident Evil, in some ways, I can understand why Anderson deviated from the source material to avoid predictable scenarios or worse, campy dialogue like "Jill Sandwich." However, the infamous director went a bit unchecked when expressing his creative liberties to the extent of replacing stalwarts such as, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield for Alice who is the centerpiece throughout the entire movie franchise. Call it nepotism since Anderson and Jovovich are married. While working on Resident Evil, Anderson had indicated that the film would not include any associations with the video game series as in his words, "under-performing movie tie-ins are too common and Resident Evil, of all games, deserved a good celluloid representation".
So, right off the bat, his ‘noble” intentions had already alienated hardcore fans of the games. But instead of focusing on the many flaws this adaptation has, I will be fair enough to mention some ideas and implementations that I liked for example, Anderson paying a modicum of homage to Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland as this subtle plot device. Here we have Alice entering a nightmarish world controlled by what may seem to be her antagonist, the “Red Queen.” Even parts of the soundtrack composed by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson, had hints of a “fairytale” premise especially regarding the film’s intro. The soundtrack itself was more industrial and at times, obtuse or out of sync.
More homages included, The Cube, a 1997 movie about a room puzzle utilized as death traps however in the case of Resident Evil, the automated security system known as the "Red Queen" activates a laser trap within the hive's corridor and as expected, the black person doesn't make it through the first 30 minutes of a horror film. Our friend Anderson has no problem keeping this traditional trope intact.
What also worked or at least was intriguing was the unraveling conspiracy arc during the second act which to me, was perhaps Resident Evil's strongest characteristic courtesy of suspense whether it's Alice putting the pieces together when recovering her memories, to Spencer, Alice’s husband, revealed as the main foil when eavesdropping on Lisa Adelson’s plan to expose Umbrella with Alice as an accomplice. “sinister” spencer used this as an opportunity to apprehend the T Virus and sell it to the black market.
Although Anderson had avoided roughly 70 percent of the source material, he was gracious to add in a few subtle references to this movie that only fans of the games can appreciate. I am glad that he did not intend on giving this an PG-13 as with Mortal Kombat. There is enough extreme violent content to satisfy those looking for some of that good ol fashioned guts and gravy-as in blood. If there's one scary scene that had everyone jumping in their seats in the theaters, had to be Alice avoiding one zombie dog only to run into a ravenous pack of six hungry Dobermans.
This was Alice’s “make-or-break” moment where she systematically kills one dog at a time with bullet timed shots, followed by a run up the wall jump kick. Now, where I thought the last scene was exaggerated, Anderson left it as a subtle hint of things to come as the sequels further explained Alice’s superhuman capabilities, so I gave it a pass. That said, I was annoyed by those cheap jump scares e.g., Alice placing her hand on Kaplan's shoulder, which seemed way out of place and while I’m at it, Chad Kaplan (Martin Crews) was the most useless character in Resident Evil. I mean it took him forever to shut down Red Queen’s automated laser grid defenses and when he finally does, their fearless leader “One” (Colin Salmon) ends up diced into a hundred pieces of pineapple chunks!
I somewhat gravitated to Michelle Rodriguez’s Rain Ocampo who brought in that feistiness and smart-assed quips like “blow me”, however her reaction after getting bit by a zombie, was far less than convincing: "She bit a chunk off me. She crazy!" 🙄 What's equally funny is how Rain (Get it? “Rain”, “Umbrella?”) did not turn until near the end of the movie and note, she was bitten well over four times!! I guess that explains the “efficacy” of the antiviral shot Alice gave her. Hell, it might as well have been a fucking placebo. That scene predictable or not, where Rain “awakens” was one of the best payoffs in the final act, to the extent that I really didn’t care for the afterthought CGI “big baddy Licker” it would have been nice to have thrown in a Tyrant or even a Hunter, but in the case of the Trains escape, it’s not plausible why Anderson and co, went with the Licker during the final showdown.
The ending was memorable for several reasons, one implying that an infected Matt Addison would appear in a yet planned sequel, as Nemesis. Milla as Alice, well, once again awakening from a slumber but this time, from a gurney unclothed and all. The other, where Alice realizes that Raccoon City has turned to shit after the stubborn bastards at Umbrella, decide to go back in the Hive, leading to a bigger Zombie outbreak! The scene was impactful with Alice toting her shotgun followed by the camera scaling backwards, revealing a dilapidated landscape that is rife for a post-apocalyptic setting. The epilogue then cues the intro theme and blank screen followed by Thrash band Slipknot’s “My Plague”.
With all its faults, Resident Evil or rather “Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil,” gives enough emphasis on action, suspense, an anti-corporate message accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack, that made it a palatable experience. One can appreciate the implementations here and there, while others will and have dismissed it as a piss poor adaptation however when playing devil’s advocate, Resident Evil was the first major Zombie film out of the gate for the new millennium that helped to “resurrect” the Zombie sub-genre as succeeding films such as 28 Days/Weeks Later, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Zombieland, World War Z and so many others debuted afterwards and that’s a huge accomplishment!
As James Cameron of Terminator and Aliens once said, Resident Evil his biggest guilty pleasure. One of mine, too. As for the sequels, and especially "Welcome to Raccoon City" the less said, the better! Resident Evil is available on Hulu and HBO MAX.
On a somewhat related note, here's a blast from our past podcast during that 'other" viral outbreak!