There hasn't been a good, old-fashioned horror movie about the living
dead in a long time. "Night of the Living Dead." "Dawn of the Dead."
"Return of the Living Dead." Back in the late-'60s, '70s, and '80s,
shockers about the undead were about as common as a "Friday the 13th"
sequel, only more gruesome. While "Resident Evil," based on the wildly
popular video game series, does return to the conventions of the long-sleeping
genre by featuring a slew of hungry zombies, it misses the mark of
being a well-made or scary film by at least a couple miles.
Meant to be a prologue to the goings on in the video games, "Resident
Evil" tells of the crooked Umbrella Corporation, who have created
a lab-engineered virus with the power to reanimate corpses, and turn
the living into the undead. Following the disastrous release of the
virus that shuts down security and completely wipes out the faculty,
the action switches to follow Alice (Milla Jovovich), who wakes up
naked in the shower of a mansion with no memories of her life. Before
long, she is joined by a group of gun-toting commandos, led by the
tough-as-nails Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), as they travel into the
underground laboratories of the corporation, known as The Hive. Once
down there, they get locked in and immediately sense that they are not alone.
After a suspenseful opening ten minutes that end disappointingly by
cutting just before the money shot (undoubtedly a result of the dumbass
MPAA's restrictions), "Resident Evil" goes downhill fast and only
gets better in time for the admittedly nifty last scene. The ending,
also, is the only moment that manages to elicit a distinct creep-factor.
Before this, the film takes a ridiculously long amount of time setting
things up, all the while never properly introducing any of its characters
or giving us a reason to care about their fates. They might as well
be faceless victims who, every once in a while, get attacked and munched
on by the dead people, dogs, and a deformed creature with a long tongue.
When the enemies finally make their long-awaited appearance, the results
are anticlimactic and off-putting. While some atmospheric instrumental
music had been scoring the film up until this point (courtesy of Marco
Beltrami and Marilyn Manson), it immediately switches over to heavy
metal during the attack scenes. This jarring, lame choice destroys
any sense of fear that might have come at this point.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson (1997's "Event Horizon") turns in a lackluster
job. His pacing is way off, with the movie constantly jumping to a
start, then stopping, then gaining speed again. No momentum to the
action/horror setpieces is ever built, hindering further the audience's
involvement. Anderson also poorly films his action scenes, with so
many quick cuts as to become unintelligible and destroy the possible brooding mood.
Lead actors Milla Jovovich (2001's "Zoolander") and Michelle Rodriguez
(2001's "The Fast and the Furious") turn in what could best be described
as adequate performances. Neither has a true character to portray,
and neither goes out of their way to add some much-needed humanity
to the living-and-breathing figures. Both remain ciphers without hearts.
All of the other actors are either dispatched of quickly, or are so
thinly written as to make no impression.
As much as I enjoy the horror genre, "Resident Evil" simply doesn't
cut it. This is dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator filmmaking,
without any respect for its viewers, its purpose, or its actors. Not
only are there no scares to be had, but the film even fails to get
the heart racing. While the obvious set-up for a sequel is the singular
chilling scene, if it is anywhere near as sloppy as this picture,
Anderson might as well stop while he's already behind. Where is George
Romero when you really need him?
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman