Friday, 19 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Resident Evil

Movies based on video games don't get a whole lot of love, which I think is a damned shame because there are so many terrific ones. When you talk about movies adapted from video games, a lot of people's minds go straight to the likes of Double Dragon (1994) and Super Mario Bros. (1993) - which, by the way, I loved so who knows if you can trust my judgement, right? Most people don't immediately think of Resident Evil (2002) because they forget that's how it started, as a video game.

As a series of kick-ass video games, actually. 

Oh, yeah... Welcome back to Wondra's World. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the next movie on our 31 Days of Modern Horror list. Right. Back to the good stuff...

Resident Evil is an awesome movie if you haven't played the game. If you have, it becomes even better. I really can't recommend enough that you familiarize yourself with the game (especially the second one) before watching the movie because you'll appreciate all the little touches so much more. Touches like the dogs in cages - dogs you know, if you played the game, will be coming back to bite us later.

(Also watch for: statues, codes, birds, and the train.)

"When it starts, you don't know what's going on. You see it, but it doesn't mean anything. It only pieces itself together later. The film is clever, actually, with the way they present the information. Most of it is presented as if it were a cut sequence for the game. That's what Resident Evil feels like, an extension of the games. 

"You don't need to have played the game to enjoy the movie, mind. It stands alone. 

"Resident Evil 2 was my favourite of the games. It was the jumpiest game of its day. You were nervous playing it because you never knew what was going to happen. You could walk past a window a dozen times and nothing would happen but the thirteen, hands would have you. The movie does a good job of recreating that."

The beginning of Resident Evil is so sterile it doesn't feel like a horror movie. It's just this super high-tech lab full of people going about their normal, everyday lives. That adds an extra layer of horror to the movie, without really trying to. Because they become zombies, the film's baddies, we forget that every single person in the Hive was a victim of the Red Queen's machinations. (Well, the Red Queen and James Purefoy's Spence sheer douchebaggery, of course.) 

Isn't that why we find ourselves so easily falling prey to the threat of terrorism? (And, yes, I am saying that deliberately fuelling the fear of terrorism is as bad, if not worse, than actual terrorism. Come at me.) I mean that terrorists (and the people who create them) are successful because we're all secretly scared of being murdered out of nowhere, for seemingly no reason. Resident Evil doesn't dwell on that fear but it's there all through the intro. Then, to make matters worse, those victims become the baddies. Just look at Eric Mabius's Matt, who becomes the sequel's Nemesis. 

Yes, victims of terrorists can become terrorists themselves. You could, if you chose to, develop a convincing social commentary around that theme in this movie - but we're not going to. We're going to get back to the fun stuff. 

You know, zombies and shit. 

Aside from the whole video game thing, it's also important to remember that CGI was still really finding its feel in 2002, when Resident Evil was made. If you hold the CGI in this movie up to today's standards, you might find it a little lacking, especially when it comes to one of my favourite baddies, the Licker. While the effects might be just a little on this side of dodgy, you can tell that a lot of money went into making this one. It's slick, clean, and well-lit. 

The zombies in Resident Evil are old school. They're slow and shuffling, which doesn't necessarily make them any less terrifying. Most of the movie's best deaths don't come from the zombies, though. My favourite deaths all occur in the mirrored, laser-filled corridor. Those are some nasty, brutal - but clever and just a little bit amusing - deaths. I love that 2016's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter revisits that corridor. 

My favourite jump, on the other hand, comes when they're standing outside the flooded lab and, as they all leave, the body slams a hand against the glass and opens her eyes. 


That moment sums up about 90% of the scares in the games. Like the games, no one in Resident Evil ever has enough ammo and can't trust a dead body to stay dead. 

Good fun, right?

(And don't even get me started on the Red Queen. British kids terrify me. I blame Doctor Who.)

"Yes, the zombies were slow but they weren't bad. They weren't in the same league as the zombies you see now, but they were good.

"And, by the way, the Red Queen wasn't a baddie. People see her as one but she was just trying to save humanity. Okay, you get kind of a HAL vibe, but she's essentially good. Anyway...

"The zombies that needed SFX weren't great but, like you say, that just reflects the time. You could point out that it had quite a large budget for a zombie film so there's no excuse for getting it wrong... it's a small complaint, though, because the rest worked. The dogs were awesome. With a lot of the zombies, CGI just wasn't needed. The Licker wasn't bad. They were clever enough not to show it too much. It was basic but it worked.

"Colin Salmon's death had to be the best. I'd never seen anything like that at the time. The movie shied away from showing you a lot of the deaths and it wasn't as gory as it could have been, but those deaths in the corridor were spectacular. "

It's uncertainty that makes Resident Evil such a nervy movie. Anticipation and red herrings keep you on the edge of your seat, even when nothing particularly scary is happening. The soundtrack also goes a long way to accomplishing that. The drumbeat is like a racing heart and it never, ever slows. Although it's a 2000s movie, the soundtrack takes me right back to the drug-infused rave scene of the 1990s. You know, figuratively 'cause I would never... 

I mean, you've got Manson and Slipknot. The music was never going to let up. It's wild and frantic, encouraging you to feel the same - and succeeding. 

"You can't go wrong with Manson. He's always been really good with that off-kilter, not-quite-right sound. There are a lot of ambient noises during the movie and most of it is a beat, rather than actual music. You're aware of it but it doesn't dominate the film. I love the soundtrack, especially when you can hear traces of music from the games."

Like the soundtrack, Resident Evil freaking moves at a pace. The whole thing is a race to the end, to the safety that none of the characters ever really reach. And, when a movie's protagonists never reach safety, neither do we. 

Resident Evil addresses a couple of very real fears. Unlike universal fears (the dark, the unknown, etc.) the fears we see embodied in Resident Evil are modern. They're fears for a new world. One is genetic mutation. The other is corporation. Let's have a look at them, shall we?

This movie came just a few short years after Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, was born in Scotland. (We're not going to worry about things like sea urchins, etc., which happened long before and failed to result in any zombified squid.) A mammal. That's us! That could be us. What's it like to be born a clone? It's not like we could ask poor Dolly (who, by the way, died the year after Resident Evil's release) because, you know, sheep. It's a terrifying thought, isn't it? Having another you out there... or, worse, being the other you.

And that's when things go right. 

Because, of course, Resident Evil is about genetic mutation gone wrong. It's the reason people still get into heated debates over whether stem cell research should be legal. Changing the very fabric of what we are is dangerous. It's that "Do you want zombies? 'Cause that's how you get zombies." moment.

Then, you've got the dangers of corporations. After all, nothing is illegal (no matter how unethical) when you have enough money. Umbrella is a faceless, all-powerful organization that is, ultimately, the cause of the deaths of all those Hive workers and the team sent in to check things out afterward.

Umbrella's reach is seen in little touches all through Resident Evil. You see it in the inscriptions on the back of Spence and Alice's (Milla Jovovich) wedding bands: 'Property Of Umbrella Corp.' This company doesn't just employ you, they own your life. I know we've all felt that way about our jobs at one point or another but Resident Evil takes it one step further, driving the point home with bullets stamped with Umbrella's logo. You can't escape work, even after death. 


"I think genetic manipulation is far worse than the movie suggests. Personally, I think one of the big superpowers are going to release a genetic plague to control the world's population. I could go on about SARS, etc., but I think it's enough to say that it's absolutely a very real, very possible threat. 

"Zombies... Do I believe zombies are possible? Can we bring a dead body back to life? To any kind of real functionality? No. That's just absurd."

I have one more thing to talk about, and then we can all get back to our regularly scheduled mornings. If you know me at all, you can probably guess what's coming. 

Alice and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) are totally freaking bad ass women. It's important to see that in horror movies, where women are so often consigned to the roll of hapless victim. While Rain does die, she's never a victim. Her death comes across as a "She knew the job when she signed up" moment. She died doing what she was hired to do and, yeah, it sucked, but she got in some fabulous quips along the way. 

And her withering glare should win an award. 

Then, there's the franchise's hero, Alice. You never get a woe-is-me moment from her. She wakes up confused and bruised but gets on with the business of figuring out what the fuck is going on. Then, you get that moment when she instinctively defends herself as her training comes rushing back. I love that moment because it's a universal moment for women. No, we aren't all clones with battle training (so not going into the not-so-good sequels), but we've all had that moment when we stood up for ourselves the first time, that rush of confidence and power we felt. We're all Alice at that moment and it feels good. 

It wouldn't be fair to ignore the fact that Alice starts and ends the movies starkers. You even get a flash of what the actor herself calls her "twat", something that normal only happens when the victim is being fucked or dismembered. Not with Alice, though. It's just necessary. Instead of feeling like a gratuitous moment for teenagers to masturbate over, it just feels like a costume choice. 

"Mila is a class act. She's a great actor in the right roles and beyond stunning. Rodriguez has the best lines, though. I want to say that she looks like all kinds of dirty sex but I suspect that would earn me a dirty look so I'll refrain...

"It's a good adaptation of the game. I still love the games. This was the only Resident Evil movie I really liked. The sequels never lived up to the first film. They were entertaining enough but they were never as scary. 

Resident Evil was jumpy, nervy, action-packed, and suspenseful. It had a great cast, even if some of them weren't well known at the time. You know them now, and that shows you how successful this movie was."

Resident Evil ends where the game begins. Gamers know what happened to Raccoon City when they made the mistake of reopening the Hive. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is one of the two sequels I actually enjoyed but I don't have time to get into it here. Jay and I can't agree over whether it's a good sequel or not so maybe you'll get to join us for that argument another day. For today, I'm calling it quits with the usual invitation: if you want to talk Resident Evil, you know where to find me. 

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

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