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Resident Evil
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Salmon, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes

Written and Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Short Version

The most fun original flick to be based on a video game to date.

Incredibly stylish on every level.

The pace is as unrelenting as possible while still letting the audience breathe.

Milla Jovovich is simply awesome.

Resident Evil rocks.  Get it.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


This one’s too good to be anything else.

Pairs Well With...


That ever-so-popular energy bomb shot (a shot of Jagermeister dropped into Red Bull) with one modification: you have to replace the Red Bull with the “Resident Evil T Virus Antidote” that got licensed as an energy drink.  Good luck!

“You're all going to die down here.”

Once upon a time, Paul W.S. Anderson was asked to take the helm of a movie based on a video game.  That movie was Mortal Kombat, and at the time it was released, it was the most fun movie ever that had been based on a video game.  Unfortunately, the luster wore off of Mortal Kombat pretty quickly, and it has since passed into the realm of mediocrity.

That did not happen twice.

Seven years later, Anderson was asked to write and direct another movie based on a video game.  That movie was Resident Evil, and even just under a decade later, it is still the most fun original movie based on a video game.  (I’m not counting sequels.)

Mediocrity just doesn’t happen here.  No, Resident Evil isn’t perfect, but what it doesn’t have, it also really doesn’t need.

Our story begins with title cards telling us a little about the world we’ll be heading into:

“At the beginning of the 21st century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States.  Nine out of every ten homes contain its products.  Its political and financial influence is felt everywhere.  In public, it is the world's leading supplier of computer technology, medical products, and healthcare.  Unknown even to its own employees, its massive profits are generated by military technology, genetic experimentation, and viral weaponry.”

We then enter what looks to be a high tech lab facility.  A figure that we cannot identify takes several interesting-looking cylinders of liquid and puts them into a case.  Just before this person leaves with the case, one of those cylinders is deliberately tossed across the room and breaks.  The audience sees vapors rise toward a vent.  We know this can’t be good.

Moments later, the facility enters a lockdown state.  As the employees of the lab start to wonder what’s going on, they also begin to realize that they’re not just locked down, but they’re also being locked in, and what’s more, the facility’s security system has begun the process of killing them by whatever means may be readily available.

Cut to a naked woman waking up on the floor of a shower.  You will never hear her name mentioned at any point during the movie (interesting stylistic choice), but it’s Alice (Milla Jovovich).  It becomes readily apparent that she doesn’t know who or where she is.  Before she has much time to find out anything more than that she’s in a mansion and that she’d laid a red dress out for herself before going into the shower, however, paramilitary types in black outfits break into the place.  They seem to expect her to have some answers, but when they realize that she’s gone amnesiac, they indicate that she must have been gassed by the Hive’s security system.  The Hive, we soon learn, is the lab we saw earlier.  It’s actually located deep underground beneath a Midwestern town called Raccoon City, and this mansion is the secret entrance to get there.  The boys and girls in black have been dispatched to find out what happened to the Hive, and whether or not Alice has answers right now, they intend to bring her with them when they go down there.

Most of them, of course, won’t be coming back…

Resident Evil lives and dies on a single point, and that point is pacing.  Mess that one thing up, and the whole movie falls apart.

Writer/Director Paul W.S. Anderson obviously made it his mission during whatever amount of time he dedicated to making this movie to be sure that he did not mess that up, and he succeeds in that mission.  The pace of Resident Evil is as unrelenting as possible while still allowing the story to present itself and progress and without subjecting the viewer to action overload (my eyes are narrowing at you, Michael Bay).  The urgency of what the characters are experiencing becomes your urgency.  They don’t have time to get bored, so you don’t have time to get bored.  You have just enough time to get a handle on what’s happening or at least try to piece together what you don’t know, and then you’ve got to move on.

Essentially, what the pacing does here is take advantage of the plot device that is central to the character of Alice as we know her, that device being her amnesia.  You get about ten minutes of setup before you meet her, and from that moment onward, your world is essentially her world.  You know what she knows, you don’t know the most important parts of what she doesn’t know, and thus you share her experience, drawn through the movie’s unknowns exactly as she is.  It’s a very nice stylistic tie-in (actually enhanced by the fact that you’re never told her name until the end credits roll, making it even easier for you as a member of the audience to in part become her), and it also allows the film to neatly bypass what on other occasions would be a major sin.

Resident Evil doesn’t do much at all in the way of character development save for a few key people, and even then, you only ever find out just enough to carry everyone through the story.  In traditional horror or slasher mode, this tends to spell disaster, but thanks to Alice’s amnesia, the audience has a highly plausible excuse to go with in that they only know what she knows, and the fast pace of things doesn’t give anyone time to be bored for long enough to question that.  Neat trick, that, and as a bonus, the one bit of story that Resident Evil does present as a mystery while we go along – namely, what really happened to set off the events that started the film – gets to play out naturally, as well.

The pacing also helps to disguise something else, which actually surprised me once I started looking for it.  You’ll probably remember Resident Evil as being gorier than it is.  In fact, the level of blood and gore is surprisingly minimal for a flick full of zombies.  (Interestingly enough, that word is never used during the movie.)  No spilling guts, no hanging eyeballs.  Even when there’s a scene that very definitely points out that a character’s fingers are lopped off, you only see a cauterized shot of the hand, but no loose fingers.  Later in the same scene (the famous laser hallway, which is fabulous even without the heavy gore), another character is cut into roughly four dozen pieces; again, it’s not particularly messy.  Considering how adamant Paul W.S. Anderson was that Resident Evil remain an “R” rated movie (and how heavily he poured it on for Event Horizon a few years earlier), that’s surprising.

As noted, though, the lack of gore doesn’t wreck the film; there’s still plenty of good horror stuff to see.  Particularly awesome are the zombie Dobermans, which you may be surprised to learn are not flat-out CG creations; rather, they’re real Dobermans with raw meat and makeup wrapped around them, and they look amazing.  Indeed, Resident Evil as a whole is far, far less reliant on CG than most people seem to remember; models or makeup are always preferred here (even for the final monster), with CG only being used as an enhancement for certain moments.  Granted, those moments seem to happen frequently for the “Licker” monster that serves as this film’s “boss,” but still, this is far from being a CG monstrosity, and that’s a good thing.

And so is the scene where Milla Jovovich goes kung fu on the Dobermans.  Instant classic moment.  Just wow.

And while we’re on the subject of our leading lady, though she’s challenged less here than she would be in the sequels to follow, there’s no denying that Milla Jovovich kicks ass and totally nails this role.  She nails it when her character is confused, she nails it when she suddenly remembers how to be a commando against the dogs, she nails it when she puts all of the mental pieces together, and she nails it when she snaps a zombie’s neck with her thighs.  With this movie, Jovovich definitely cements her place as the heroine everyone had been waiting for to take the torch from Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

She gets pick up that torch in flick that not only quickly paced, but stylish.  Resident Evil is simply beautiful to look at, whether we’re talking about the meat-covered Dobermans, the wonderfully eerie Red Queen (Michaela Dicker), the fashionably desolate mansion, or the technological wreck of the Hive.  (And whoever picked out that dress and those boots, high five!)  It’s also a hot listen, thanks to a rockin’ score done by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson.  (Yeah, you read that right.)  Anderson’s always one for style, and once again, he delivers the goods here.

He also delivers just enough of the unexpected to keep viewers on their toes.  People don’t necessarily die when you expect them to, and more importantly to a flick like this, they don’t always live when you expect them to, either.  Cap that off with a superb ending (which of course begs for the follow up but isn’t at all gratuitous for it), and you’ve got a movie that does everything it’s supposed to without being completely by the numbers.

Bottom line, Resident Evil just kicks ass, and it doesn’t ever lose its luster, even after many repeated viewings.  Yeah, it’s short on heavy character development and has less gore than you’d expect, but at the pace it travels, it doesn’t need either.  This is horror action that stands up to being watched over and over again, and as such, is most definitely worth owning as part of your permanent collection.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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