This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
In the dim and distant past, Capcom created a videogame called Resident Evil. The public liked its blend of lethargic zombie based puzzle shocker action and frustrating control mechanisms and bought a great many copies thereof. Being Capcom, they bled the series to death with endless sequels only to end up remaking the earlier games on the new generations of consoles, which is a nice trick if you can get away with it. The initial ideas certainly share some commonality with George Romero’s zombie flicks and it was in a sense inevitable that the idea of a film would be mooted. The twist came from Romero’s involvement as writer/director, creating a bizarre circle of inspiration that would eventually be broken by Romero’s script apparently being utter tosh. Into this void steps Mortal Kombat director Paul W.S. Anderson, and if this version is genuinely more competent than Romero’s was then I fear for poor George’s sanity.
In a mysterious mansion in the forested outskirts of Racoon City, a comely wench awakens in a shower with no recollection of who she is or what happened to her. I, however, know her to be Alice (Milla Jovovich), because I’ve had the misfortune to watch the film. She has barely time to stumble around and throw on a fetching red dress before a S.W.A.T. team crashes through the windows and capture her. In short order they find similarly befuddled cop Matt Addison (Eric Mabius) and Spence Parks (James Purefoy), who on casual inspection would appear to be Alice’s husband but it’s all a ruse, as S.W.A.T. leader One (Colin Salmon) explains. Spence and Alice are security operatives, their relationship a front and their home is an emergency entrance to The Hive, a place so important it deserves, nay demands capitalisation.
A secret underground laboratory for the seemingly benevolent pharmaceutical giant Umbrella, it houses a vast underground research facility full of all sorts of verboten things, genetic manipulation, hi-tech weaponry, human experimentation, drowning puppies, that kind of thing. Things go horribly wrong after the A.I. running The Hive, Red Queen goes homicidal killing hundreds of research staff. The S.W.A.T. guys are to go in and shut her down, and they drag their new friends along for the ride. They achieve this in short order but only after four of their number including One are minced by Red Queens security systems in a scene that might have been good if its money shot hadn’t been lifted from Cube and featured the old favourite of stupidly convoluted moving lasers when one really big laser might have been a better idea.
The team manage to disable the computer despite her stern and as it happens entirely accurate warnings of doom, as in powering her down it unlocks all of the security doors and unleashes a lot of bad things into their world, such as the script and ropey CG monsters. It’s not too long before we’re reduced to only Chad Kaplan (Martin Crewes) and Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) remaining from the S.W.A.T team. If you think their names are silly bear in mind that this is based on a Capcom game so they could easily have been called Seig Warheit and Alabaster Dante-McIntleroy. Take what small pleasures as you can find, for this film provides precious few. The other chaps are being picked off by hordes and hordes of zombies, created by the T-Virus which infects emails, deletes system files and raises the dead to a state where they can lumber about and try to eat people.
Alice, Rain, Matt, Spence and Chad are in a bit of a pickle, waist deep in zombies and no exits apparent. They switch the computer back on and threaten it a bit until she shows them a suitable exit strategy. For us, the best exit strategy is the eject button. On their way out they’ll find themselves double crossed a few times as one of the characters is not who he seems, one turns out to be evil and the computer turns out to be as reliable as computers normally are, especially one running Windows for Nefarious Corporations Edition.
The set-piece finale involves the fortunate survivors and the not-so-fortunate viewers bearing witness to perhaps the most ill conceived CG monster committed to celluloid. One of the earlier experiments into the evil zombie-making virus produced a big ugly reptilian thing that was possibly called a Tyrant in the game, damned if I can remember. It’s not a particularly convincing effort at a big ugly reptilian thing. In fact, as effect shots go it’s not quite up to par with Harryhausen’s work of thirty odd years and the big ugly reptilian thing doesn’t even come close to inhabiting the same world as it’s unfortunate victims.
In a way this disastrous CG set piece is an apt climax to a disastrous film. Never at any point is there the vaguest hint of tension before the poorly made up extras start shuffling around. Without any build-up it’s impossible to take them at anything other than face value, which is the trick that you may have hoped they had learned from Romero. As in all truly successful horror flick it’s not the money shot that makes you jump, it’s the fact that you’ve been building up the foreboding, feeling the characters fear that there’s some dark and nameless force waiting for them. The shape it takes, be it Freddy, Jason, freaky well-dweller or zombie isn’t the crucial factor. It’s the anticipation of something that makes it scary. Without this the absolute best Resident Evil can hope for is either a schlock gorefest, impossible given it’s teen friendly rating or a spectacular special effects showcase, impossible give that it appears to have been created on a SNES.
It seems cruel to fault the actors in this film as it’s really not their fault. That’s not to say they’re in any way good, just that the script and director limits them in ways that no actor could hope to overcome. The soundtrack plods a relentless path of mediocrity, which simply isn’t good enough given its mood creating importance particularly in this genre of movie. It’s tempting to blame director Anderson for all of the combined uselessness in the movie. Largely it’s tempting because it’s accurate. He wrote the appalling dialogue and told the actors how to deliver it. He storyboarded the scenes and left out the tension. He decided how he wanted his zombies to look. He made this, and he made this badly.
Perhaps his idea was to fuse action movie sensibilities with some of the horror genre stalwarts, but all we’re left with is an unappealing mixture of the dregs of both styles that’s never exciting and never in the least part frightening. I feel it’s our duty as a responsibly movie resource to clearly explain why a particular film is awful, rationally setting out the points on which it fails to cut the mustard. I feel I’ve done so in the above text, so allow me to sum up by saying that Resident Evil is bloody awful.