What do you call a zombie film that refuses to call itself a zombie film? Resident Evil!
An action-horror-adventure film that is heavy on the action and light on the horror, Resident Evil sets a tone for future video game adaptations, as well as kicks off a lucrative franchise.
This may be the first solid action/horror film I’ve done on 31 Days of Horror. In Resident Evil, a biological weapon has been unleashed in a super hi-tech facility. Mila Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez are part of an elite team that needs to infiltrate the factory/building and make everything safe again, otherwise mutant dogs and zombies will destroy humanity. Inside the building there are lots of special and clever traps to keep them occupied, like laser grids and explosions. There’s also a holographic little girl that may be part of the security system?? Maybe this should have been a Sci-Fi Saturday entry instead! Many people know that this is based off of a video game, so let’s see how well this film version performs!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
A corporate saboteur steals vials of T-virus from a lab at the Umbrella Corporation; a giant multinational business that is also a huge part of the military-industrial complex. On the way out the terrorist smashes a vial releasing the virus. The building’s artificial intelligence computer, the Red Queen, puts the office into lockdown, killing all the employees in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
Elsewhere, in a mansion, a young woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakens with no memory of who she is. A tactical team smashes in and grabs her, along with a police officer, Matt (Eric Mabius), on their way back into the Hive (the name for Umbrella Corps secret underground facility). The mansion is a secret entrance point, and Alice & Spence (James Purefoy) – whom they discover on the train into the Hive – are secret operatives guarding the mansion.
Inside the Hive, the team must shut down the Red Queen, which they believe has become homicidal (not realizing she was activating failsafe protocols). Her defensive measures kill off half the tactical team, leaving only Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Kaplan (Martin Crewes), J.D. (Pasquale Aleardi) and the “civilians” Alice, Spence and Matt. After frying the computer circuits with an EMP to reboot it, all the doors that had been sealed now open, releasing shambling corpses that need to feed on human tissue (they never call them ‘zombies!’). Rain is bitten initially and as they move further through the facility. Then J.D. is killed and Kaplan is also bitten.
Realizing they need to restart the Red Queen in order to get help escaping, they head back to the mainframe and reboot her. All the while Alice and Spence’s memories start coming back. She realizes she was helping Matt’s sister commit corporate espionage, and Spence was actually the one that stole and released the virus. He pulls a gun on Alice, but is eaten by a dog-like mutation (called a ‘Licker’ in the films supporting material).
Alice, who also remember she’s a bad-ass, takes Matt, Rain, & Kaplan back to the train to escape the Hive before permanent lockdown is in place. The Licker follows them, eating Kaplan, and attacking & infecting Matt before Alice kills it. Rain finally turns (the antivirus they found didn’t help at this late stage) and Matt has to shoot her. When they reach the mansion, Umbrella Corporation doctors in white, faceless, med-suits grab them. Matt is to be studied and put in the “Nemesis Project,” while Alice is observed. She escapes, near nude, to see that the local town, Raccoon City, is ground-zero for the outbreak. She grabs a shotgun and heads out into the world to kick some butt!
“The T-virus is protean, changing from liquid to airborne to blood transmission, depending on its environment. It is almost impossible to kill.” – The Red Queen
Resident Evil has some potential to be a gripping action/horror film but really falls flat. It’s entirely derivative of other films, so much so that even the combination of genres isn’t enough to sustain it. Let’s break down what I saw in the film. First from an action standpoint, this film screams as a ripoff of James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens. Lone female civilian teams up with military group to explore dark & creepy location filled with biological “weapons” wanted for use by the military-industrial Corporation. Add in the hispanic soldier (Michelle Rodrigues filling in for Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez) and a few actions fights on moving trains (instead of a mobile APC) and it seems pretty obvious.
From a sci-fi standpoint, the soldiers are looking to quash the AI system (the Red Queen) that appears to have become homicidal. This is derivative of the HAL computer from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s little red lights on every camera, and a convex computer lens that look just like HAL’s “eye.” And in the horror genre, the film is an obvious riff on the George Romero classic The Night of the Living Dead (and all of its sequels). The zombie populace is created by an evil corporation, rather than a failed government satellite, but both monsters shamble, eat human flesh, and can be killed by injury to the brain. A final shot has a newspaper headline that reads “ The Dead Walk,” which is a direct reference to a similar paper in the Living Dead sequel Day of the Dead.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson is no stranger to sci-fi and horror having previously made the creepy Event Horizon, but this film does not work as well. I would even recommend his film Soldier (with Kurt Russell) over this action-yawn. Besides the above stylistic issues, cinematically the film just didn’t work. The film was over-edited, if you can say that about an action film. The use of close-ups, probably meant to suggest confinement and claustrophobia, made it appear that there was actually no place to put the camera. As far as the horror elements, the film is mostly jump scares, that are all extremely predictable.
Anderson does returns to the Resident Evil franchise for three more of the six films, so perhaps some of those are a better fare. Obviously the film was put in place to create such a franchise, with the ambiguous and questioning ending, but as a viewer that has no stake in the Resident Evil video game universe, I was not enthralled with this film.
- I didn’t even mention the extreme foreshadowing of a bunch of loose pipes on the return train trip. Why are these pipes even hanging here? Obviously they will be used to gouge or spear some character shortly! And indeed…they do!
- There’s a ton of references to Alice in Wonderland as well. Presumably they are all part of the game. These include the main character named Alice, the team entering the secret tunnel to the Hive through a mirror, a white rabbit being used to test the virus, and the AI being named the Red Queen – which also decapitates a character (“Off with their head!”).
- The box office success of Resident Evil spawned a number of other action-video game films including: Doom, Silent Hill and Max Payne.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.