A video game turned sci-fi horror fantasy delivers the gory goods
Horror, as filmmakers seem to have forgotten in the wake of the tongue-in-cheekiness of Scream, is a serious business. Which is why Resident Evil is such a pleasant surprise.
It’s a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride through a zombie apocalypse that succeeds through the unabashed sincerity of its convictions. All it wants to do is scare the pants off of its audience. As an unrepentant zombie glutton, this one had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Miles below an American city of a few years in the future, a sprawling subterranean research complex called The Hive headquarters the dubious biological experiments of the multinational (and appropriately named) Umbrella Corporation, one of many tentacles servicing the military-industrial complex. Security is tight, overseen by the multi-camera eyes of The Red Queen, a high-tech artificial-intelligence system whose sole function is to maintain hidden what goes on in the top-secret labs.
So surgically efficient is The Red Queen that, when during the course of a little inter-corporate espionage an experimental bug known as the T-Virus is loosed, the security system responds ruthlessly by sealing all exits and then proceeding to gas, drown, and even drop all the drones contained within the compound down elevator shafts.
Enter Alice (Milla Jovovich), an amnesiac who finds herself wandering the halls of a seemingly abandoned estate, who with fellow amnesiac Matt (Eric Mabius) is soon forcibly swept down the rabbit hole into the heart of The Hive by a paramilitary team responding to the “situation.” Their job: checkmate The Red Queen.
Unfortunately for them, they find that the system not only has a few unexpected moves planned, but that “she” also has recruited some very nasty pawns to help counter their moves. Seems that the T-Virus holds a very nasty side effect—the ability to re-animate the corpses of the recently deceased—and the newly awakened graveyard shift is always hungry.
Based on the popular video game of the same name, Resident Evil is yet another hyper-kinetic sci-fi/horror hybrid, replete with pounding industrial soundtrack (supplied here by Marilyn Manson and Marco Beltrami) and laden with a virtual gore-nucopia of homages to earlier classics of horror, from The Exorcist to Aliens to Ghosts of Mars to—of course—George Romero’s Dead trilogy.
Interestingly enough, this outing also disproves the notion that a zombie film cannot be as effective without great gouts of blood and copious gut-crunching, a hurdle that has purportedly kept Romero from securing the financing needed in order to attempt the fourth episode in his Dead mythos (Resident Evil was trimmed of some mayhem in its Stateside release to avoid the dreaded NC-17, box office anathema).
The oddest aspect, however, is that—despite its video game origins—Resident Evil is a surprisingly effective horror film on its own. Stripped down to the bare bones of characterization, from the slinky red-dressed enigma of Alice, to Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) as a smoldering, pouty-lipped but ruthlessly efficient Latina trooper, to the skittish techno-dweeb, to the stoically proficient squad leader—all the cannon fodder fit comfortably into the narrative. By the sure use of the genre’s archetypes, everything you need to know about each character is illustrated effectively with broad brushstrokes within a couple of shots, allowing the proceedings to cut to the chase.
Perhaps the simplest reason that the whole thing works is that, contrary to conventions of contemporary irony-drenched horror offerings, director Paul Anderson (Mortal Combat and Event Horizon) obviously takes the whole game seriously. The image of Milla, decked out in leather jacket, slit skirt and knee-high boots, pulling off Matrix-styled moves to fend off a pack of undead mutant Dobermans should have come off as patently absurd, and yet it works. Anderson refuses to take a condescending approach to the material, refreshingly enough delivering not only the best zombie flick in years, but one of the best horror films in recent memory.