Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, May 9, 2019

VIDEO GAME MOVIE MONTH: Resident Evil (2002)

Video games have, pretty much from the beginning, wanted to be movies. Just look at the films I've already covered this month, which include loose rip-offs of “Star Wars” and “Enter the Dragon.” “Resident Evil” is the video game largely responsible for popularizing the survival horror genre. That game, of course, was highly influenced by George Romero's living dead films. So it's only natural that “Resident Evil” would be primed for a cinematic adaptation eventually. Romero even nearly directed it, writing a script that was deemed too violent to be commercial. Eventually, “Mortal Kombat's” Paul W. S. Anderson would win the job. His vision of Capcom's zombie series would be a commercial success and launch the longest running live action video game film series of all time.

A woman named Alice awakens in a strange mansion with no memory of how she got there. She soon encounters a man named Matt Addison, before both are cornered by a group of special government agents. The mansion sits above the Hive, the high-tech research center for the Umbrella Corporation, a medicine company that was secretly manufacturing bio-weapons for the government. Something has gone wrong down below, the team sent to figure out what exactly happened. They soon discover an insane supercomputer and hordes of mutated zombies, creating by the unleashed T-virus. Alice, tagging along, attempts to regain her memories and survive the night.

During my review of “Mortal Kombat,” I praised Paul W. S. Anderson's direction as just the right level of ridiculous for that particular franchise. This approach, however, is an ill fit for “Resident Evil.” The games, at least the early ones, focused on tension and creating a sense of panic. Anderson, meanwhile, basically creates an action movie. The film is largely divorced from the source material and many of its ideas – like a taunting little girl hologram or a sequence involving cutting lasers largely ripped from “Cube” – have nothing to do with the games. Just in general, Anderson's direction is completely obnoxious. He employs a lot of flashy and distracting techniques. Crash-zooms, whip-pans, shaky-cam, and sped-up footage all put in appearances. There are frequent flashbacks in the film and they are always accompanied by flashing lights, blurry footage, and annoying sound effects. The musical score, largely composed of techno and heavy metal, drains away any tension that might've otherwise existed. It's hard to be scared when everything is so loud and in-your-face all the time.

Among the film's biggest departures from the video game is its character. While inspired by the game's Jill Valentine, the protagonist Alice is exclusive to the movie continuity. And, Christ, Alice is such a garbage character. She awakens with no memory of how she arrived in this situation, which leaves her largely blank. What we do learn about her past is all brass tacks narrative stuff and does nothing to build up her personality. Yet, inexplicably, the character is also a bad-ass when the script requires it. She'll go from cowering in a corner to, in a moment so dumb it becomes unintentionally funny, leaping off a wall and kicking a zombie dog in the face. Where did she learn these things? The movie never says! Milla Jovovich's delivery is wooden and she delivers the character's big dramatic moment, when she tosses away a man who betrayed her – who she has very little meaningful connection to, by the way – in an especially unbelievable fashion.

The “Resident Evil” games are largely credited with bringing horror to the forefront of video gaming. The best of the games are terrifying. The movie's stabs at horror are much more pedestrian. There are a number of jump scares, people or things leaping into frame suddenly. The movie ends up relying on zombie movie cliches. You have the expected beat of someone being bitten and transforming when its the most inconvenient for the characters. You have someone begging to be killed so they don't come back as a mindless creature. Or being left with a gun specifically so they can finish themselves off. There's in-fighting among the survivors. It's all stuff any experienced zombie fan has seen a hundred times over. “Resident Evil” isn't even that gory, as most of the movie's really bloody action happens just off-screen. Once again, it's really hard to be scared of anything when it's scored to thumping electronic music or screeching metal guitars.

Since horror quickly takes a backseat to action, does Anderson's “Resident Evil” fare better in that regard? Not really. There's a number of scenes of the heroes just shooting mindlessly at the encroaching zombie masses, missing a lot and wasting a whole lot of ammo. (Which is even more annoying, since conservation of ammo is a big part of many “Resident Evil” game.) When Alice starts bashing zombie heads against pipes, it just feels uninspired. In fact, random head-to-pipe bashing puts in another appearance at the end. The over-the-top quality that fit “Mortal Kombat” so well sticks out badly here. When a female zombie is shot so hard, she flies backwards through the air, the audience chuckles. So most of the action in “Resident Evil” is forgettable except for the stuff that produces laughs instead.

So is there anything I like about this one? One or two things. Anderson ditches most of the crazy monsters from “Resident Evil,” the most egregious omission being the original final boss, the Tyrant. However, he does keep the Licker, a mutated super-zombie with a giant tongue. While the CGI used to create the creature looks like shit, the practical effects are better. Over all, it's a neat monster to bring in as the final adversary in the film. Secondly, Michelle Rodriguez plays Rain, the female special forces soldier that survives the longest. Rodriguez has all the personality that Jovovich lacks, playing a girl who refuses to go down without a fight. Rodriguez is also way more believable as an action heroine than Jovovich. Why wasn't she the main character instead?

Even as a thirteen year old kid, when my friends ate this shit up, I hated the first “Resident Evil” movie. The premise for the original “Resident Evil” game, a SWAT team trapped in a mansion full of zombies and other crazy monsters, could make for a great horror movie. Instead, Anderson cut most of that shit so he could indulge his underground tunnel fetish and make his then-girlfriend an overblown action hero. The music and visual construction of the film is hot garbage. The script is often nonsense, with too many unnecessary twists. The leading lady is a void of charisma. Simply put, this is a bad film that somehow grossed over 100 million dollars and spawned five sequels. I'll be watching all of them this month. God have mercy on my foolish soul. [4/10]

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