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?
©2002 by Dustin Putman