by Steve Habrat
Don’t hate me for telling you this, but I actually sort of enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 big screen adaptation of Resident Evil. Based upon the wildly popular Capcom horror/shooter video game, Resident Evil is a surprisingly entertaining and slightly creepy Night of the Living Dead for Mountain Dew fanatics and die-hard Alien fans. With plenty of guns, zombies, entrails, explosions, and chicks with barely any clothing, Resident Evil is a total guy flick that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, only that you have a good time and don’t hate yourself in the morning for it. In a way, that is the main problem with Resident Evil, that it doesn’t think too highly of its target audience. Resident Evil has plenty to work with within its sinister corporation premise but it happily ignores this for an hour and forty minutes. It relentlessly misses opportunities to make heady comments about how big corporations deviously enslave us, but instead, it would rather show you Milla Jovovich nude or a zombie get its head blow to smithereens. I guess the blood and flesh show is more fun than the one that makes us think. But what did you expect from a movie that is based on a video game?
Welcome to Raccoon City, a futuristic metropolis that is controlled by the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical and houseware company that is also secretly developing a slew of biological weapons underneath the city. This underground development facility is called the Hive and it is here that a thief has infiltrated the seemingly impenetrable facility and unleashed the mysterious T-virus. In response to the contamination, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, quickly begins trying to quarantine the virus and kill off all the Hive employees who were exposed to the virus. Just hours after the slaughter, the Umbrella Corporation sends down a small team of commandos led by James “One” Shade (Played by Colin Salmon) and Rain Ocampo (Played by Michelle Rodriguez) to investigate. Along the way, these commandos meet up with amnesiacs Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), Spence (Played by James Purefoy), and suspicious cop Matt (Played by Eric Mabius). As the group pushes further into the ravaged underground facility, they begin to be attacked by endless swarms of undead drones that crave human flesh. As the group’s battle to stay alive becomes more and more desperate, the undead ghouls stalking them through the tunnels turn out to be the least of their worries.
Director Anderson uses Resident Evil to make a surprisingly effective nod to George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly enough, Romero was originally approached to make the film but he left the project due to creative differences. Anderson, however, keeps the film’s scope small, with swarms of ghouls attacking in narrow hallways and trashed offices, which heightens the terror to nearly unbearable levels. Things really get spooky when the group seals themselves into a computer room as the ghouls bang on the doors around them. He also has the sense to slowly build up to the first zombie attack with plenty of squirm-inducing suspense. Then he boldly kills off half the macho characters to make room for two seriously tough gals who pack mean drop kicks. Despite some iffy performances from the B-squad of actors, Resident Evil manages to really make an ominous impression in its first forty minutes. Sadly, once Anderson nudges the zombies to the side and unleashes the hulking mutant experiment nicknamed “The Licker”, things begin to spin wildly out of control. Anderson then piles on tons of poor CGI and disordered action that completely demolishes the smart touches he applied at the beginning of the film. You’ll reluctantly give in to his overkill and just go with the flow as the fake blood relentlessly splashes across the screen.
Another shock that comes out of Resident Evil is the fact that, while it may not be Oscar worthy, the acting is still surprisingly decent for a movie based on a video game. Jovovich is easily the best as the tough-as-nails amnesiac Alice, a chick who can throw down with the best of them. Anderson spends more time trying to photograph her bare breasts than he does focusing on the performance in front of him but Jovovich comes out of the project okay. Rodriguez plays the same role she always plays, a badass with her face scrunched up into a testy grimace. Salmon gets to channel Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones but he looks like a sissy compared to Jovovich and Rodriguez. Purefoy is pretty stiff and is basically asked to just play worried before a last act character twist that has him sparking to life. Mabius is severely inconsistent the entire time, which is a shame because his character is one that is front and center. Another standout is Martin Crewes as Kaplan, a spooked computer expert who is exceptional at conveying the sickened I-didn’t-sign-up-for-this face when the zombies stumble out of the dark.
To match Resident Evil’s industrial horror aesthetic, Anderson enlisted shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to compose the score for the film. With the help of Marco Beltrami, Manson delivers a burst of moody synths, shrill drumming, and bawling guitars that would sound much better in a headphones than in a Hollywood motion picture. At times, the score is unbelievably distracting, removing us from the moment and drowning out what little story there actually is. Still, Manson manages to compliment this industrial rot of the set quite well so I suppose he succeeds. Anderson also makes some questionable choices in the editing department, preferring to cut away just when the action was getting good. For the zombie fans out there, the ghouls are perfectly modest, just looking dead enough without getting carried away. There are not tons of elaborate wounds on every single zombie that stumbles in front of the camera but there are a few injuries that you will remember. The rest of the action is exactly what you would expect from an action film made in the wake of The Matrix, with multiple slow motion shots of the gals flipping through the air. Overall, Resident Evil’s first half is much stronger than its second half, but the film as a whole is a solid horror distraction that ranks as one of the better video-game-to-film adaptations out there.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.