For a significant number of years, the concept of slasher movies fell away. The major horror franchises of Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm St. and Halloween found themselves struggling to stay relevant with the demographic that made them classics. Meanwhile, in 1996, a single question stirred a new generation:
Do you like scary movies?
Resident Evil, for all its flawed and confusing movie adaptations, cannot seem to lose its 1990’s nostalgic luster. Who can honestly say, despite all the years of watching Millia Jovoich in a constant one woman carnival, that they still do not have some fondness for the franchise, or the original game at the very least? Being scared witless as decaying dobermans crashed through the windows of a hall previously thought cleared, will forever be how I understand and love Resident Evil (Directors Cut): as survival horror at its best. And it might seem silly now, especially with how gruesome video games have become, but back in 1996, this was good stuff; still is in my opinion. Who can forget this particular scene below?
Turning the corner, this was our first encounter with Resident Evil’s zombie, and our lives have since been forever changed! The Romero styled walking corpse was the big appeal with Resident Evil as a video game, for me at least. The other monsters were cool, but the zombies were the foundation. And the zombie, one could say, was the contributing factor for the original movies success with fans. Albeit, when Resident Evil became a film, it was already fighting an uphill battle, especially when considering how in 2002, video game movie crossovers were all stinking awful (Yes, even Mortal Combat was not as good as it could have been. Nerd blaspheme? Perhaps, but its honest). Paul W.S. Anderson definitely had a monumental task ahead of him. However, before moving on with this review regarding Anderson’s take on Resident Evil, we need to mention the original writer/director tasked with bringing this beloved game to the big screen, George A. Romero. That’s right folks, the undead king himself was hired after directing a popular Japanese commercial for the Resident Evil 2 video game, back in 1998. Romero’s script remained close to the original story with the game, keeping Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine as the main protagonists and the plot evolving around the mansion located in the Arklay Mountains surrounding Raccoon City Forrest. There were minor changes to some of the characters and to the story itself, but these were minimal and did not overt the overall story in any negative way. Thankfully Romero’s script still survives, you can check it out here.
As for Mr. Anderson’s take, its hard to hate it completely, especially considering how well it fared as an early crossover when all the other crossovers at the time sucked ass and other obstacles he faced, including die-hard Romero purists who had heard about their icons rejected script and boycotted the film. But Anderson did an honest revision on the story, stepping away from the video game hierarchy, though not completely, and creating an original piece that could navigate, as best it could, around angry nerd criticisms. This is also the film where the crooked ankle zombie walk became popular, so kudos to the actor who made that possible! However, with the positives, there will also be negatives, so lets divide this review between the two.
James Purefoy is one of the best modern horror villains (see The Following). He’s not monster, per-say, he just has a different perspective on life; he’s a character, not a caricature , and a part of that is why he’s so enjoyable to watch on screen. Another positive and enjoyable aspect from the film was the Umbrella Special Ops Team, sent into the mansion to breach the underground laboratory. Watching these guys (and girls) was like watching a squad of Colonial Marines, complete with their own tuff as nails Private Vasquez, or as I like to call her, 1980’s Michelle Rodriguez. Obviously, Mr. Anderson had a solid and well scripted cast, which helped develop an enjoyable atmosphere of suspense. The zombies were good; though, there were some unnecessary attributes we’ll discuss with the next section. The dogs were awesome and traditional, to an extent. Though I wasn’t really thrilled with the whole “red queen” A.I. scenario, it definitely added to the mess of humanity verses our own creations; the age old warning against unrestrained scientific development. Another positive was when Matt Addison shouted “Get over here,” a totally awesome nod to Anderson’s video game movie crossover, Mortal Kombat. And, the general overwhelming feeling of eeriness felt throughout the entire picture, even after the cheesy action sequences.
Despite Mr. Anderson being able to pull off something decent, he still fell into the action-horror trap: overusing CGI. We won’t get into the deep end of the debate, but let me mention, again, that CGI has its place and can be used in horror to its benefit; however, directors tend to overuse computer graphics because in the long run its cheaper than developing awesome hand crafted effects. Be that as it may, the issue with CGI is that technology is constantly improving and the programs and designs we come up with now will look totally cheesy later down the road. Horror movies should be built to last. Consider Carpenters masterpiece, The Thing (1982),if you need a reference for a how an amazing timeless piece of horror should look. During the plot development, there was an unnecessary “ticking clock” scenario playing out; when in the end, the other guys end up being able to open the sealed doors. Their mission should have been a plain and simple rescue and intelligence gathering op. Anderson using the Hunter as the “big bad” when he should have used the Tyrant, was also disappointing. With the Tyrant, he could have skipped over the worst CGI created creature ever (though, to his credit, the Hunter probably looked cool 11 years ago; but then again, this adds to my above argument regarding the use of CGI).
The Bottom Line:
Mr. Anderson’s take on Resident Evil wasn’t horrible, though it could have been much (much) better. And i’ll always wonder how George A. Romero’s movie would have looked like, but then again, because he was turned down for this flick, Romero was then able to work on his Land of the Dead script, which he finished at the dawn of 9/11 (thus having to go back again and redesign the story for the new “normal”). Sometimes, even though we don’t really understand it at the time; things end up working out. Ultimately, Resident Evil was enjoyable to watch, and should most certainly be added to you’re zombie playlist for Halloween. You could also throw in the second adaptation, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which was, in my humble opinion, just as good as the first. What could be said that hasn’t already been said? Sometimes horror moves fail to stand against the test of time, but even 11 years down the road, Resident Evil isn’t half-bad. And secretly, i’m hoping for a future remake based more on the video game. Maybe even perhaps a completely fresh reboot with Romero’s vision in mind! How awesome would that be? And lastly, how could I end this review without giving kudos to Anderson’s nod toward Romero (pictured below). Respect yo!