Back in 1996 when Capcom and Playstation released “Resident Evil,” the horror and gamer world were awash with buzz and raves of a game that while lacking in voice acting department (seriously if you’ve ever seen the filmed intros to the American game, you’ll laugh non-stop), was an all around horrifying and inventive survival horror game that begged to be made in to a movie. It featured all of the tropes of the classic horror genre from a large spooky mansion, a bunch of mercenaries called out to investigate strange goings on all of which lead them to clash with undead dogs, birds, ravenous monsters and–worst of all–hordes of flesh eating zombies.
What begins as a mere stalk and shoot evolves in to a world of government conspiracies, a mad doctor fallen victim to his own experiments and blood splatter that just whet the appetites of gore hounds alike. From the outset, “Resident Evil” just had to be made in to a movie and for a very long time many fans wondered what the big screen adaptation would entail. There was even a contest on the “Resident Evil 2” manual that offered fans to become an extra in the impending movie. Then in 2002 after so many years of inexplicable development hell, Paul WS Anderson offered us “Resident Evil.” Fans of the franchise were basically disappointed, including yours truly. Not only is “Resident Evil” almost nothing like the games containing zero of the tension, atmosphere, and nightmarish dread and isolation of the original series, but director Paul WS Anderson completely dodges any and all characters from the games inventing the heroine Alice who’d head what would invariably become a vanity project for Paul WS Anderson and his wife/star Milla Jovovich.
Every essence of the original concept is watered down, the games are given nothing but lip service with a brief cameo of the mansion and the undead birds as Alice is called in to active duty after awakening in a bathtub (cue obligatory near nudity) and happens upon a group of officers injected in to the underground base of the mansion to investigate the unusual incident at “The Hive” where a horrible accident has left its staff members MIA save for some rotten corpses. Milla Jovovich stars as androgynous avenger Alice, a woman with convenient flash backs that manage to come to her only when the story absolutely deems it necessary for her to recall them to serve a purpose to forward progression and the limp surprise twist in the climax. What essentially begins as a horror movie dissolves in to a weak and rather lethargic science fiction pastiche of Anderson’s favorite films as he rips sequences from “Aliens,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and an eye roll inducing homage to “Day of the Dead.”
This obvious note only serves as a reminder that the films he’s paying tribute to are infinitely better as the film lags along with its usual stalk and kill and fetishizing of Milla Jovovich that inevitably becomes a consistent element in the series. The character of Alice is barely interesting at all so Anderson enlists character actors such as James Purefoy (the only stand out), Eric Mabius, and Michelle Rodriguez (about as bad as she gets here) to keep up the story and even that never works as most of the film is nothing but exposition with various sub-plots that go nowhere, a mystery that’s seemingly pointless to the overall franchise, and zombies who are about as tame as Anderson wants them to be. “Resident Evil” wouldn’t even be that bad a movie if Anderson made good on the gore and splatter, but even there he’s more content in focusing on poorly staged wire fu rather than giving us what we want.
The zombies here lack any form of character of individuality and are all clean pale corpses who act as mere plot devices and not actual horrific elements. When we do get to see the walking dead in all of their glory, they’re merely just blueish sleepwalkers who will take big clean bites out of someone but never quite focus on devouring any of the actual characters. Even the money shot involving a horde of zombies grabbing at a helpless character ends in him awakening as a zombie minutes later with only a few bite marks on his face and nothing more. Aren’t these flesh eaters? Meanwhile when Anderson can get gruesome, he opts for the safe approach. A zombie woman who was basically drowned in a flooded room during the incident in the prologue is in the same condition we saw her before with no bloating from the drowning or bruised skin we’d normally see from someone who’d be a victim of such an accident.
On every conceivable level, “Resident Evil” fails to be an even remotely entertaining science fiction horror film and just stand as a watered down variation of the series that took a wicked concept and turned it in to forgettable fodder for Anderson to endow his wife with and piss off legions of fans in the process. As such “Resident Evil” is just a bland and rather terribly acted bit of horror hogwash that you could stand to miss. As a video game movie, as a horror film, as a science fiction film, as an action film, “Resident Evil” is just a Z grade bit of fodder for the pre-teen sector who will be convinced they’re seeing groundbreaking cinema while watching what is really just a pale copy of much better horror films that have been out for years. “Resident Evil” continues to be an argument against video game movies.