Title: Resident Evil
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, Colin Salmon
Plot: When the T-Virus is released in a secret underground facility called “The Hive” an elite military unit is sent in only to find the staff have been turned into zombies while a mysterous woman suffering amnesia named Alice (Jovovich) might hold the key to their survival.
Review: Paul W. S. Anderson might be one of the most frustratingly diversive directors currently working today as throughout his careers he’s danced between directing interesting original pieces such as his ram raiding drama “Shopping” and “Event Horizon” while at the same time spending a large chunk of his career making video game adaptations as he proved you can make a decent video game adaptation with “Mortal Kombat” before setting his sights on the “Resident Evil” franchise which somehow he has managed to turn into a franchise of its own.
Watching the film back when it was originally released I genuinely could not have predicted that the series would last as long as it has, let alone how much of a horror icon Alice would become and while I might have tapped out originally after this first entry I felt it was long overdue that I actually revisit the series if only to discover what it is about these films which has enabled them to keep churning out new entries which have increasingly moved away from the source material and into a post-apocalyptic near future.
Opening to a mystery scientist stealing the T-virus before unleashing the virus in the lab sending the facility into lockdown as he makes his escape, the employees of the Hive meanwhile assuming that its a fire drill shuffle around the hallways only to soon find themselves being targeted by the facility security system known as “The Red Queen”. It’s a fun scene especially when it includes a misguided attempt to escape from an elevator leaving one employee minus their head. From here Anderson really doesn’t let up on the tension as we are introduced to Alice lying on the floor of her shower with no memory of who or where she is, while the fact that she suddenly has a group of gas mask clad commando’s swinging through the window really doesn’t help things either.
While the opening might be packed with genuine tension and atmosphere, things soon start to go downhill as Alice joins the commando’s as they set about infiltrating the Hive. Here the plotting goes the way of a traditional zombie horror as the group manage to unleash the recently zombified employees aswell as a number of other genetic experiments the company has been working on. Thankfully though Anderson mixes things up enough her to stop this being just another zombie thriller as we get a number of fantastic set sequences such as Alice facing off against a group of zombie dogs and the now legendary laser hallway sequence. At the same time Anderson doesn’t feel the need to anchor himself to the source material which saw him turning “Mortal Kombat” into an “Enter the Dragon” remake with added supernatural elements. Here it is very much the case again as he opts not to include any of the characters from the games and outside of the mention of the “Umbrella Corporation” Anderson keeps many of the references to the game much more subtle.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film though is how the film can be viewed for the numerous references to “Alice in Wonderland” that are worked into the film making it little coincidence that our heroine is called “Alice” let alone the fact that the security system is named “The Red Queen” creepily represented by a hologram of its creators daughter. The original script also saw the inclusion of “The White Queen” who would have been the main AI system at the Umbrella Headquarters monitoring the Hive and counting the Red Queens security systems while explaining how the commando’s are able to access the Hive. Even though this was removed from the final script there are still plenty of other refrences to be spotted such as the entrance to the Hive being through a mirror (Alice enters through the looking glass), the white rabbit the virus is shown being tested on aswell as the Red Queen decapitating one of the group. Unquestionably its a unique approach while one subtle enough to be overlooked until its pointed out and much like the amnesia plotline it strangely works even though when I first watched the film on its original release I have to admit to being more than a little disappointed that while it had hints of the games such as the mansion and the secret lab underneath the characters and plotting where completely different.
My other bug bear with the film is just how sterile it is as Anderson sets up a fun moment of gore or a zombie attack only to cut away at the last second leaving you feeling cheated, especially if you’ve come up watching the classic zombie movies of the 70’s and 80’s which on the surface it appears that Anderson is keen to homage here (not a running zombie in sight) though sadly not their gut munching visuals. Intrestingly the Zombie godfather George A. Romero was at one point attached to write and direct the film only to abandon the project after numerous classes with the studio during the pre-production process with his version sticking more closely to the games with Jill Valentine being the female lead instead of Alice and I can’t help but wonder if his version would have given the film its much needed dose of gore that is noticeably missing here.
Despite the lack of gore Anderson still manages to craft some memorable zombie attack scenes including the group trying to escape the hordes using overhead pipes while the zombie attack scenes are all suitably tense and chaotic even if they do feel ultimately hollow thanks to the lack of gore. That being said the film could be seen as an entry level zombie movie for those not quite up for the gore of Romero’s Zombie saga yet not wanting to hokey antics of “White Zombie” and “Plague of the Zombies”. Yes this is not a perfect film, especially with so much clunky dialogue floating around but as a gentle starting point for zombie movies you really could do a lot worse.
The cast are really a mixed back here with Milla Jovovich getting to flex her action-heroine chops here after previously kicking a whole lot of ass in “The Fifth Element” and while she might do anything as spectacular here she does own the character of Alice, though I don’t think anyone could have guessed from this first film what an iconic character she would become. Michelle Rodriguez is equally fun as her tough commando counter with her casting coming at her own request being a fan of the games she had asked her agent to keep an eye out for any attempts to adapt them. Colin Salmon meanwhile continues to make me wonder who is actually casting him much like Alan Cummings as despite getting the best death of the movie is pretty horrible throughout his brief appearance here.
While this is far from a perfect film I did enjoy it more this time around than I did watching in on its original release. Perhaps this was because I knew what to expect this time around or maybe seeing how it fits into the larger vision that Anderson has turned it into with each new film. Even on its own this is pretty disposable fun though if your looking for a good zombie movie your attentions are best placed elsewhere.