Should I Watch..? Resident Evil
What's the big deal?
Resident Evil is an action horror film released in 2002 and is the first adaptation of Capcom's bestselling Resident Evil series of video games. The film stars Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy and Colin Salmon. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who would later go on to marry Jovovich in 2009), the film concerns amnesiac Alice who is drawn into a commando unit's quest to access a secret research lab buried underground belonging to the mysterious Umbrella Corporation. Despite receiving a mixed reception from critics, the film went on to take more than $102 million worldwide and ultimately became the first film in a series of movies based around the video games and characters. With the final film due out in 2017, the series holds the Guinness World Record for the most live-action adaptations of a video game. The film was followed by its first sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse (1) in 2004 and many have followed since with varying degrees of success.
What's it about?
Beneath Raccoon City, the all-encompassing Umbrella Corporation has constructed a top secret research laboratory called The Hive which was conducting all manner of suspicious experiments. After a strange blue vial breaks and releases a virus into the air-conditioning, the artificial intelligence monitoring the facility shuts everything down which kills all the personnel down there. On the surface, young Alice wakes up in the shower with amnesia and is shocked to find herself about to be kidnapped by an unknown assailant. However, Umbrella Corporation commandos smash into Alice's mansion to rescue her, forcing the stranger to reveal himself as environmental activist Matt Addison.
Releasing that Alice's memory loss is no help to them, the commando unit - led by James "One" Shade - are forced to take Alice, Matt and Alice's partner Spence deep underground to investigate exactly what happened in The Hive and what exactly is waiting for them. As Alice's memory slowly returns, she and the others find themselves pitted against a murderous AI, hoards of zombies and various mutated creatures, the results of Umbrella's experiments.
James "One" Shade
Paul W.S. Anderson
Paul W.S. Anderson
Release Date (UK)
12th July, 2002
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
The film certainly makes every effort to mirror those early Resident Evil games from the endless running down corridors to the weirdly disappearing corpses left behind. Fans of those games are going to get a real kick from Resident Evil although they may be disappointed that the film doesn't offer as much of a plot. Once the film has been set-up, the movie slips comfortably back into being a series of scenes involving creeping down corridors and jumping at odd noises, characters scaring each other several times before one of them gets chomped by an actual zombie before stopping for a quick shootout and repeating the pattern again.
However, there are positives in this extremely derivative picture. Both Jovovich and Rodriguez provide strong female leads (which is unusual for an action movie like this) although neither has much in the way of dialogue beyond shouted commands and the odd one-liner. The effects and make-up for the zombies is effective and set design is also pretty good. The film looks better than its modest budget might suggest although the CG used for the Licker creature felt a bit crude. The soundtrack is also an ear-piercing assault produced by Marilyn Manson and composer Marco Beltrami - likely to appeal to the easily distracted viewers but it didn't do much for me, I'm afraid.
- George A Romero, creator of the original Night Of The Living Dead (2), was originally supposed to write and direct the film but dropped out due to creative differences with the studio. His film would have featured the character Jill Valentine instead.
- The film has several connections with Alice In Wonderland from the lead character's name, the AI being called Red Queen (who also asks for heads to be cut off), the virus being tested on a white rabbit and Kaplan and Rain constantly worrying about how much time is left.
- Among those making cameos as zombies were the presidents of Capcom Japan and Capcom America (the game's publishers) as well as the film's stunt coordinator Jaymes Butler.
What's not to like?
Where Resident Evil lets itself down is with the threadbare plot which forgets about telling a story for much of the time before flooding the film with just enough exposition before the end. With dialogue reduced this much, the rest of the cast struggle to make much of an impression with the exception of Salmon who utilised a pretty poor American accent. The film also makes much in the way of cohesion - watching it, I was aware of characters wandering off on their own or even popping up in new locations altogether without anyone else with them. Call me paranoid but if I were trapped in a zombie-infested science lab underground, I'd rather stay with the heavily-armed commando unit than take my chances on my own.
The film lacks any sort of conclusion besides setting things up for the obvious sequel (and I hate it when films do that!) and lacks any sort of narrative during the film besides the team's attempts to escape The Hive. I also struggled to make sense of who Alice was - why wasn't any character from the games allowed to be the protagonist? It simply seemed to waste the Resident Evil brand somewhat - this was as generic a zombie film as I've ever seen with the only original features being the ugly Licker thing and the dogs covered in strawberry jam (I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be blood but I'm sure I saw pips).
Should I watch it?
Thankfully, it lacks the goofiness of Mortal Kombat (3) and it strives very hard to be a bit more adult but the problems with Resident Evil go much further than that. The script doesn't offer anything you haven't seen before, the scares are visible even to Mr Magoo and the film just doesn't grab you in the way you want it. It's an interesting picture that attempts to emulate the game a little too closely but if you're not the one playing it, what's the point?
Great For: Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson's romance, fans of the early games, watching in the dark on Halloween
Not So Great For: horror veterans, screenplay readers, action fans
What else should I watch?
The only other film in the series I saw was the first sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse which the final few moments of this film are basically a trailer for. It was much the same as this first film - much creeping about in darkness before lighting the screen up in an improbable action scene. I don't expect that Resident Evil: Extinction (4), Resident Evil: Afterlife (5) or Resident Evil: Retribution (6) will be that much different so if the sight of Milla Jovovich in tight clothing blowing hundreds of zombie away floats your boat then I'm guessing you'll be more than happy. And we can't be friends any more.
I've never rated zombies that highly as baddies because they're too slow and shambolic to pose a serious threat to an organised or prepared team of heroes. However, they remain hugely popular when it comes to movies - whether its in serious drama like World War Z (7), comedies like Shaun Of The Dead (8) or classic low-budget horror films like Romero's iconic Night Of The Living Dead or Sam Raimi's cult smash The Evil Dead (9). Any of these will give you goosebumps if you're in the mood for... BRAIIINNSSSS!
© 2016 Benjamin Cox