Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Salmon
Tag line: "Survive the Horror"
Trivia: All the minor cuts and bruises on Milla Jovovich's character are real. No make-up was applied
The term “All style and no substance” has, over the years, become something of a tired cliché, but in the case of 2002’s Resident Evil, it just about sums the movie up perfectly.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil was inspired by the popular video game franchise of the same name. Following the outbreak of a deadly virus at an underground laboratory belonging to the Umbrella Corporation, a facility nicknamed “The Hive”, a military unit is sent in to secure the area and rescue any survivors. Aided by Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Spence (James Purefoy), two employees of the Corporation who’ve inexplicably lost their memories, the task force makes its way into the seemingly deserted lab and begins its search. Their efforts are thwarted, however, by The Hive’s highly advanced computer system, known as The Red Queen, which controls the entire facility. What’s more, they discover the “survivors” of the outbreak have been transformed into flesh-eating ghouls. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Alice, Spence, and their military escorts must escape this subterranean death trap before they themselves fall victim to it.
To say Resident Evil gets off to a fast start is an understatement; this movie flies out of the gate and doesn’t look back. After an opening sequence where we witness the initial outbreak, which spreads throughout The Hive by way of its air conditioning system, we’re immediately introduced to Milla Jovovich’s character, who doesn’t know who, or where, she is. After wandering around for a minute or two, trying to get her bearings, she’s grabbed from behind by a cop named Matt (Eric Mabius) at almost the exact second her house is raided by the military detachment. Events unfold so rapidly at the outset of Resident Evil that not a moment is allotted for the audience to catch up; we’re simply strung along for the ride.
But is Resident Evil a ride worth taking? No, unfortunately, it isn’t.
The movie does have its strengths. For one, the opening scenes, while disorienting, do manage to keep our interest, and there’s an excellent sequence in which members of the military unit are locked in a corridor by The Red Queen, then sliced to bits by a laser that makes its way from one end to the other (the Commander, played by Colin Salmon, thinks he’s outsmarted The Red Queen after dodging the deadly laser, only to be one-upped, leading to an incredibly cool visual).
On the downside, many of the action scenes are very confusing, shot in such a way that we have no idea what’s going on, and a so-called mutant, a genetic monster “protected” by The Red Queen, is brought to life with some piss-poor CGI (this creature, known as “the licker” in the game series, never once looks real). But the key problem I had with Resident Evil is it doesn’t spend a single moment building its characters, which makes it hard to care when something terrible happens to them. While trying to escape an onslaught, a soldier named J.D. (Pasquale Aleardi) is pulled into an elevator by a horde of the infected, and devoured. We watch, in slow-motion, as Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) attempts to save him, only to realize she’s too late. Clearly, this was designed to be a dramatic scene, but because we know nothing about these characters or their relationship to one another, what could have been a hard-hitting sequence is instead empty and flat. Director Anderson doesn’t give us a reason to care about J.D’s death, or anyone else’s, for that matter.
In the end, the experience of watching Resident Evil is a lot like watching a video game we aren’t even invited to play; we just don’t give a damn!