Though officially based on a mid-1990s video game of the same title, "Resident Evil" (IMDb listing) is basically a large scale rip-off of the George Romero "Night Of The Living Dead" films that defined the zombie genre. In fact, at one point, Romero was going to direct this game adaptation. Thank god he didn't, as under his control "Evil" would've been a staggeringly slow film overflowing with self-importance. The producers did right by bringing in director Paul W.S. Anderson, arguably the worst director working today. At least under his attentive eye, this highly polished horror/action film moves at the speed of light and doesn't bother to get bogged down in rational thought. Just a good old fashioned time at the cinema, but check your brain at the door.
The Umbrella Corporation is the biggest conglomerate in the world. They control the planet through their products, which range from household appliances to highly secretive biological weapons. When one of those weapons is unleashed in their secret underground research facility called The Hive, a deadly virus is released into the air, turning all inhabitants into flesh-craving zombies. A team of elite commandos (including Michelle Rodriguez, "The Fast And The Furious") are sent in to contain the event, taking along with them some civilians (Milla Jovovich, "The Fifth Element" and Eric Mabius, "The Crow: Salvation") who seem to be suffering from amnesia. The squad has only hours to accomplish their mission, but once they make their way down deep into The Hive, the horror of the virus begins to take them down one by one.
While the thought of "Resident Evil's" nucleus as a video game is pretty depressing, particularly coming after such an appalling film as last summer's "Tomb Raider," "Evil" is one of the first game-inspired pictures to actually work. Using an R-rating and a director with no self-control, "Evil" is wicked fun, punishing the audience with delicious zombie eatin' good times not seen in a long while. Scored with intensity by Marco Beltrami and rocker Marilyn Manson, "Evil" is visceral, choosing excitement over scares, though Anderson does set some kind of new record for "Dolby Digital shocks." It brings back the feeling of a good B movie, even with the A-list technology employed in the special effects. "Evil" is fun, and considering all the talent bringing it to the screen, the completely screwball marketing (the evil Dobermans that make up the entire television spots take up maybe 3 minutes of screen time) and the general unease of anyone trying to pull off a competent horror film these days, the fact that "Resident Evil" is any good is something of a miracle.
Paul Anderson, the director, seems to enjoy his mayhem, and for the first time I can say I really enjoyed his achievement here. Known for his work on the laughable "Mortal Kombat," the butchered "Event Horizon" and the horrifying Kurt Russell actioner "Soldier," Anderson has continually been a filmmaker without a vision. He's always willing to drop more sound and fury on his movies than needed, not electing to take the time to sort it all out by the finish line. He's careless and obnoxious, but this time Anderson has found a film that needs to be handled exactly that way. Romero worked wonders with his "Dead" trilogy, but his leaden touch would've killed "Evil." The picture is basically a shoot-em-up (or eat-em-up if you take the zombie perspective), and any kind of social satire (a Romero staple) would be the shiv in the gut of entertainment value. Anderson approaches "Evil" like his other films: With balls-to-the-wall intensity and killer set designs. Only this time his poisonous aesthetics are a perfect fit for the "Resident Evil" attitude.
What holds back "Evil" considerably are the narrative and characters. Or should I say lack thereof. Actual storytelling seems to be Anderson's kryptonite, and "Evil" is no exception. Using the horrendous device of amnesia to slowly roll out this story, Anderson's intentions are to keep the audience guessing just like his characters. But soon enough, like an 8 year-old, his attention is drawn away by the violence and special effects. He leaves the story to hang out in the wind, and even after the film's conclusion, I'm not sure I could explain anything that happened to the characters. "Resident Evil" comes to us from a long lineage of popular video games, and the plot respects that in terms of action set pieces and violence, but Anderson the writer wants more than that. He concocts a story that doesn't conclude at the end of the film, instead choosing the lamest of climaxes: the opening for a sequel. That's a shame, since the characters are in limbo when the end credits roll, and if the film doesn't perform at the box office, I'll never know what happens.
Considering the recent entries into the horror genre, I appreciate Anderson's straightforward manner of thinking. There are no post-modern references, no self-aware humor, only straightforward horror and action. And while there is a considerable lack of bloodshedconsidering the plotAnderson still manages to push the R rating exactly where it should go. I was greatly entertained by the fierceness of "Resident Evil," and when it's all said and done, I didn't feel dirty about liking it either.
Filmfodder Grade: B+