– Summary –
Director : Paul WS Anderson
Year Of Release : 2002
Principal Cast : Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, James Purefoy, Colin Salmon, Eric Mabius, Martin Crewes, Ryan McClusky, Oscar Pearce, Indra Ove, Anna Bolt, Joseph May, Robert Tannion, Jason Isaacs, Michaela Dicker, Heike Makatsch.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: Deep beneath Raccoon City, an enormous scientific research installation has become exposed to the deadly T-Virus, which reanimates the corpses of living flesh. A group of paramilitary operatives, together with two civilian survivors, must infiltrate the central computer at the heart of the installation and reboot it, in order to understand exactly what happened.
What we think : Hugely effective zombie thriller has all the hallmarks of a movie derived from a video game, yet stands tall on its own merits, thanks to spot-on direction from Paul WS Anderson, and terrific sound design and music scoring. Resident Evil isn’t intelligent, nor is it what you’d term “high art”, but what it does it does well, and with a gut-punch sense of fear and horror that many PG films can’t muster. If you’re into this kind of game, or kind of movie, Resident Evil is a must-see.
If you had to choose a movie based on a video game made in the last 20 years that was actually any good, you’d probably have to go all the way back to the original Resident Evil. Inasmuch as it’s a video game movie, and therefore has to bow to many of the tropes and clichés inherent in such an enterprise, as a film on its own (disregarding for the moment the increasingly vapid and annoying sequels it spawned) it delivers all that fans of the original game series could have asked for. Resident Evil’s premise might now be the ingredients for any number of zombie/action/sci-fi/thriller film these days, but back in 2002, the market hadn’t yet become saturated by the genre to the point of Doom or Silent Hill; as an effective, pulsating, legitimately evocative and stylish opener to the franchise, this film stands tall as one of the genuinely entertaining entries into video-game-movie film-making.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Underneath Raccoon City exists a genetic research facility called the Hive, owned by the Umbrella Corporation. A thief steals the genetically engineered T-virus and contaminates the Hive with it. In response, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, seals the Hive and kills everyone inside. Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakens in a deserted mansion with amnesia. She dresses and checks the mansion and she is subdued by an unknown person. A group of commandos break into the mansion and arrest the person, who introduces himself as Matt Addison Eric Mabius), who has just transferred as a cop in Raccoon P.D. The commandos explain that everyone in the group, except Matt, is an employee of the Umbrella Corporation, and that Alice and her partner Spence (James Purefoy) are guards for a Hive entrance under the disguise of a couple living in the mansion. Five hours prior, The Red Queen (Michaela Dicker) shut down the entire facility and released amnesia inducing gas. The commando team does not know why the Red Queen sealed the facility. The group travels to the underground train under the mansion that leads to the Hive, where they find Spence. They start the train and travel into the facility.
Before we begin, I should admit: Resident Evil isn’t a film for everyone. Considering the source, why should it be? Facing an avalanche of critical negativity, some might think that irrespective of the genre or associated production value this film is an utter disaster, but I think that’s an evaluation so wide of the mark as to be laughable. Resident Evil is a film spawned from a successful video game franchise, and remains one of the earliest of its kind (director Anderson made the Mortal Kombat movie a few years prior, to great success); looking at the genre’s history, it’s fair to say that while Mortal Kombat may have launched things off, Resident Evil solidified the concept as a worthwhile, and financially viable option for film-makers to pursue. That said, Resident Evil isn’t for granny and gramps. It’s not a film for young tots. Hell, I doubt very much whether this film is suitable for anyone outside the demographic of teenage boys and hairy, computer-game men with limited social ability. I jest, but not really. If you’re reading a negative critical review of Resident Evil, it pays to ask who the reviewer may be, and to what audience they’re assessing this movie. Sometimes, understanding a demographic is just as important as understanding a film.
Paul WS Anderson really nailed this film’s visual aesthetic. With the video game premise as a launching pad, Anderson uses many of the tricks and surprises of the franchise within his directorial style, not only to pay homage to the gamers watching, but to bring a sense of “gameness” to proceedings, something I don’t think has been handled anywhere near as well in genre films since (although, the final FPS sequence in Doom is still pretty good). Resident Evil’s thumping, menacing, pulsating sound design and electronic score (by Marco Beltrami and rocker Marilyn Manson!) serve as almost a secondary director, since it’s these elements of the movie that provide much of the atmosphere and tone. Manson’s screeching, thunderous guitar riffs and melodic, melancholy motifs are almost inseparable from the film’s fantasy-horror nature now, and it’s a testament to their genius that the film is superior because of it. Come to think of it, I think Anderson’s direction here is somewhat reliant on Beltrami and Manson’s scoring, rather than the other way around – truly, if you’re after a masterclass in scoring a zombie horror film, Resident Evil is the film you need to see.
Anderson has also assembled a fairly decent cast for the movie, particularly Milla Jovovich as Alice, who holds the story as the amnesiac looking for answers, even though those answers are increasingly desperate. Michelle Rodriguez, the only man in cinema who can pass as a woman and still be a man, delivers some hella testosterone as Rain, a butchy, thrill-killer styled commando, while James Purefoy and Eric Mabius bring some European mystery to the core group of infiltrators. Colin Salmon is dependable (he was riding high as M’s assistant in the Brosnan Bond movies at the time), Aussie Martin Crewes is empathetic as Kaplan, a member of the commandos who is the “techie” one, and the CG version of Michaela Dicker as the Red Queen is as inscrutably menacing as any movie villain has ever been.
The film is crisp, sharp and terrifying; the set design is superb (one of the key locales in the film is actually an abandoned railway substation beneath Berlin’s Reichstag building!) and the use of lighting, shadow and textures within the movie is enormously effective. Anderson understands “the reveal” – ie, you don’t give the audience a look at your entire monster until you’ve generated a lot of suspense by keeping it hidden, and with Resident Evil, he hits that nail perfectly. The build-up and payoff of various monsters and zombie attacks within the film are amplified (again) by that magnetic score, through which much of the fear and terror of the movie is generated. Perhaps the most ferocious moment of pure, unfiltered thrill is a slowly approaching “click click” of zombie dog paws on the metallic flooring of the complex, with Anderson using a little-applied zoom effect to heighten Alice’s growing unease that something terrifying is approaching her. It’s a simple scene when you break it down, but it’s the use of sound and camera effects that make it truly effective.
Resident Evil doesn’t ask much of its audience other than to sit still and be scared, so expecting more intellectual elements of the film to shine is a futile effort. What the film does, however, is do its best to deliver exactly what fans of the franchise do expect – to have zombies, monsters, and labyrinthine corridors in which to get lost, and in plentiful supply. With a thunderous sound mix (seriously, the surround mix on this film is one of my personal favourites for enveloping aural exactness) and a genuine love of the material, together with a cast game enough to tackle it head-on, Resident Evil is – in my humble opinion at least – the granddaddy of all video game movies. Personally, I think it’s a corker.