Paradise Hills (2019)

Like all genre films, Paradise Hills feels like a loose collection of themes & imagery we’ve all seen before. Is it exactly fair or accurate to describe it as Guillermo del Toro’s Stepford Wives set in the Queen of Hearts’s rose garden from Alice in Wonderland, featuring extras from The Hunger Games & Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Probably not, but that rambling assemblage of references at least hints to how familiar individual elements of its fantasy world feels, even if you’ve never seen them arranged in this exact configuration before. What makes Paradise Hills a great genre film is that it still feels entirely unique & spellbinding despite those pangs of familiarity. This is a dark, femme fairy tale I presume was conceived by first-time director Alice Waddinton after a poisonous tea service left her hallucinating & scared for her life. She may be painting with a familiar palette, but the resulting picture is wonderfully warped in new & exciting ways, especially considering how she conveys dread & menace through an overdose of the feminine.

An impressive coterie of young actors (Emma Roberts, Awkwafina, Danielle McDnonald, Eiza Gonzalez) square off against veteran badass Milla Jovovich in a near-future Patriarchal hell. Spurned by their parents for being too queer, too fat, too rebellious, and too difficult to control, the young women are imprisoned in a high-femme reform school that feels as if it were borrowed from a lingerie fetishist’s erotic fiction. Jovovich keeps her prisoners in line as a green-thumb dominatrix who plans to excise their offending idiosyncrasies in the same way she snips the thorns from her endless supply of roses. On the surface this femme obedience school that transforms young rebels into proper mademoiselles feels almost paradisiac. The young women’s torture is mostly a PG-rated barrage of ballet, yoga, and garden tea service. There’s a sinister sexuality & dystopic undertone of Patriarchy to their entire ordeal, though, something that bubbles up to the surface with increasing violence as the unruly students bring their rejection of traditional gender roles to a boil.

The most immediately satisfying aspect of Paradise Hills is the visual splendor of its costume & production design. Although the titular obedience school is obviously an evil force that must be destroyed, there’s an intoxicating allure to its high-femme paradise. The lacy house robes & white leather bondage harnesses that serve as the school’s uniform are their own kind of gendered prison that erase the individual women’s distinguishing features, yet are also undeniably gorgeous & covetable on their own merit. Similarly, the school itself appears to be a romantic spa getaway for the ultra-rich, not the brainwashing torture chamber that it truly is. This is far from the first fairy tale to allure characters in with a bounty of sensual pleasures only for the fruits therein to be revealed as rotten, cursed, or poisonous. In that tradition, Paradise Hills presents a fairytale Eden that’s deadly dangerous precisely because the pleasures it offers on the surface are so tempting. It would be far too easy to lose yourself in this pleasure palace – both literally and figuratively.

Many people are going to roll their eyes at how earnestly this film commits to its over-the-top, Literotica-ready premise, but I found that sincerity to be refreshing. Undercutting the absurdity of its fantasy scenario with snarky one-liners or tongue-in-cheek camp would have broken its dark magic spell. Waddington (boosted by a cowriting credit from the increasingly fascinating Nacho Vigalondo) carves out a very peculiar, particular mood & aesthetic here, even if she uses familiar genre tools to get there. Welcoming in audiences who aren’t already on the hook for the film’s high-femme fairytale mystique with ingratiating humor would only deflate what makes it special. Paradise Hills’s uncanny sense of femme menace works best if the sensual surface pleasures of its fantasy realm instantly appeal to you as a world where you could lose your sense of time and self. It’s a film you sink into, like a warm familiar blanket, until you suffocate.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

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And so it goes that Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise dies with a pathetic whimper . . . if, in fact, it dies at all. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter makes a hefty promise in its title to decisively conclude what has been a wildly uneven series of futuristic zombie shoot-em-ups. Yet, this sixth installment fails to deliver on that promise of finality, leaving the door wide open for a sequel the way each of its predecessors have in the past. Worse yet, The Final Chapter eases up on the mutated giants, virtual reality scenarios, and cloning-run-wild shenanigans that have made past Resident Evil films such an odd, unexpected delight. Instead of going for broke in its over-the-top CG fantasy violence and convoluted high-concept sci-fi plots, this series “finale” makes the mistake of aiming for genuine dread (a mark it falls far short of) & providing a legitimate backstory for its barely sketched-out characters. If the exact, clearly-defined origins of its heroes & villains were a necessity for Resident Evil‘s entertainment value, the series would not have gotten six films deep without them. These films’ mild popularity (in America at least; they’re wildly popular in foreign markets) depends on the ridiculousness of their zombie-themed action spectacle, something The Final Chapter brings no passion, attention, or inventiveness for. There’s nothing new here that hasn’t been done better in previous films in the series, except for that precious backstory for its protagonist, which, who cares? If this truly is the last Resident Evil film, the franchise has concluded with its worst, least exciting entry, a lazy shrug before its final bow, followed by a winking tease for an encore.

The end of Retribution, the fifth and possibly best entry to the franchise, leaves Project Alice (Milla Jovovich) stranded at the White House with the Agent Smith motherfucker that’s been the Bugs Bunny to her Elmer Fudd for the back half of the series. Surrounded by zombie hordes & some mutated dragon beasts, Not Agent Smith stabs Alice in the neck with a serum that supposedly restores her powers. The beginning of The Final Chapter throws all of the potential entertainment value of that setup in the trash. JK, everyone. Alice doesn’t really have her telekinetic supersoldier powers back. Also, there will be no showdown at the White House, since Not Agent Smith and his zombie buddies have cleared DC by the time Alice wakes up. Instead, we get another retelling of the franchise’s entire story arc, this time with a revisionist history that explains the backstory for the Umbrella Corporation’s evil intent for instigating a zombie outbreak in the first place. Game of Thrones actor Iain Glenn returns as the wicked corporate stooge behind all of the evildoing. Nevermind the fact that in the third film in the series, Extinction, his character was frustrated with his lack of power, having to answer to higher-ups in holographic boardroom meetings. He’s apparently been the head honcho for the Umbrella Corporation all along and the versions of him Alice has destroyed in the past have all been insignificant clones of the real thing. Okay. Now Alice must race back to the place where it all began, the underground Hive facility beneath Raccoon City, to retrieve an antidote to the zombie virus “before it’s too late,” in effect saving the world (or at least the few thousand uninfected humans who still inhabit it). It’s there that she learns who she truly is and where she comes from, a revelation I would have traded for any number of CG creatures, motorcycle stunts, or virtual reality freak-outs.

The Final Chapter completely misinterprets Resident Evil‘s inherent style over substance appeal and bends over backwards to retroactively inject gravitas into a flimsy premise that can’t support it. As a newly-converted fan to the series (Extinction & Retribution are both fun at least), I can’t speak for the majority of Resident Evil‘s dedicated audience, but I can say say that no amount of reformist backstory & clearly defined character motives could raise my own esteem for the long-running video game adaptation. I’ve made it five films into the franchise, somewhat happily, without that kind of clear-headed storytelling, so why start now? Ideally, a Resident Evil franchise-ender would get even more convoluted in its ill-considered sci-fi premise and go for broke in a nonsensical spectacle that would attempt to top the ridiculous places it went in the previous entry instead of crashing the whole thing down to the grounded, generic familiarity of the series’ origins. The closest we get to that here is some weird dragon hybrids teased at the end of the last film & a couple shots of a waterfall made of fire that melts a few zombies in a brief moment of victory. That should’ve been the starting point, not the conclusion. The rest of The Final Chapter is cheap jump scares, confusingly rapid action photography, a grounding backstory the series never needed, and the threat of a sequel despite the finality blatantly promised upfront in the title. The movie even misreads the room by aiming for action cinema legitimacy in a John Carpenter-inspired synth score instead of sticking with its usual nu metal tunage. I don’t look to Resident Evil films for legitimacy. I want them to be over-the-top & tacky. By failing to embrace its own tackiness the way past entries have and in eagerly searching for a more standardized mode of action cinema competency & logical storytelling, The Final Chapter had ended the Resident Evil franchise on its least worthwhile picture to date. It doesn’t exactly sour the memory of the series’ heights in Extinction & Retribution, but it does leave you walking away with a much blander taste in your mouth, which is the ultimate bummer.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

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I had more or less given up on the entertainment potential of the Resident Evil franchise after its fourth installment, Afterlife, wasted its entire runtime treading water & showing off its The Matrix Zombified aesthetic for a 3D lens. In a way, I had also given up on Paul WS Anderson as an auteur, since that entry tore down a lot of the good will established by Russell Mulcahy’s contribution to the franchise, the Mad Max-riffing Extinction. I was wrong to lose faith. The fifth Resident Evil film, Retribution, matches (if not surpasses) Extinction‘s entertainment value as a standalone feature, but does so without having to step outside the franchise’s usual formula. Retribution fully embraces its zombie-themed shoot-em-up video game roots as well as its nature as a late-in-the-game sequel by conducting a simulated, virtual reality retrospective of the series where each film is a level that must be cleared on the way to the final boss. Here, Anderson establishes his particular brand of nu metal technophobia as its own distinct artform, turning what should feel like an exercise in generic action film tedium into high-concept, reality-bending sci-fi with a kick-ass female protagonist in the lead. It’s an amazing act of genre alchemy, one that completely turned me around on the merit of the series as a cohesive whole.

It takes a few minutes of housekeeping exposition before Anderson feels comfortable with mashing the reset button in this way. The ending of Resident Evil: Afterlife teases an Umbrella Corporation attack on a ship of uninfected zombie virus survivors and this follow-up delivers that action set piece upfront . . . twice. The attack is first shown in reverse motion, starting with Milla Jovovich’s lead badass floating in an underwater void before being sucked onto the ship & downing a helicopter. She then explains the plot of each Resident Evil film to date in a detailed recap before the same Umbrella Corporation attack is shown in a more linear, traditional fashion. That’s when Anderson mashes the reset button. Project Alice (Jovovich) awakes from her underwater grave to a reality-shift, apparently living an alternate life as a housewife in the Raccoon City suburbs at the start of the zombie outbreak. This traditional George A. Romero scenario is revealed to be a simulated experience, in essence a video game, staged within an underwater facility where The Umbrella Corporation is holding Alice captive. The brilliance of this premise is that it allows Retribution to incorporate all of Resident Evil‘s past lives & themes of cloning, virtual reality simulation, and supernatural beasts in a single, interconnected location Alice must escape as if she were clearing levels on a video game. Where the movie really gets interesting is when pieces of these simulations, including the clones, begin to overlap and the narrative bleed-through finds the series finally reaching its own sense of distinct purpose that doesn’t feel like a riff on a pre-existing property.

Figuring out exactly what makes a franchise special and how to retread old ground without merely going through the motions five films in is no small feat and it actually reminds me of the way Fast & Furious movies similarly took their sweet time figuring their own shit out. Curiously enough, in both cases actress Michelle Rodriguez plays a badass toughie retroactively raised from the dead after a long absence (this time through cloning), which is just about as small of a genre niche as you’ll ever find. Other old characters like the rogue cop Valentine from Apocalypse & the axe-swinging giant from Afterlife also return, giving the film a distinct The Gang’s All Here vibe that’s been absent in its search for consistency. All that’s missing now is Vin Diesel raising a Corona to toast the makeshift family as they fire endless bullets into the zombie hoards that threaten to wipe out what little is left of humanity. Retribution ends in the same frustrating way all Resident Evil films insist on ending: shamelessly setting up a sequel (this time concluding at a zombie & dragon-surrounded White House) and fading out to tacky nu metal era tunage (this time supplied by Deftones singer Chino Moreno teamed up with some dubstep dweeb). Even that aspect feels like a tried & true feature of a series that’s finally come into its own, though, one final adherence to its already-established genre tropes before you leave the cinema. I’m not exactly sure how he did it, but Paul WS Anderson slowly turned me into a fan of his own bullshit just when I was on the edge of giving up on him as recently as one film ago. Even if he doesn’t stick the landing with the franchise’s sixth entry, The Final Chapter, he had already cohesively pulled it all together in the fifth, so the mission was already, in effect, accomplished. Retribution was Resident Evil‘s de facto resurrection, its sorely needed saving grace.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

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My biggest fear when I learned that Paul WS Anderson had returned to the director’s chair for the fourth Resident Evil film is that he would completely undo what that entry’s predecessor had accomplished. Russell Mulcahy’s Resident Evil: Extinction elevated the franchise’s production value & traded in its overgrown nu mental tone for a goofy Mad Max vibe, making for the best entry in the series to date. My fears were confirmed; Anderson did indeed slide the franchise back into its The Matrix But With Zombies creative rut, even daring to include gratuitous shots of “bullet time” effects to drive the point home. Luckily for Afterlife, I liked the goofy nu metal technofuturism of the first two Resident Evil films, so it’s not like the territory it returned to was all boredom & despair. I’d just be lying if I didn’t find the Original Recipe Resident Evil flavor a little bland after Extinction had spiced it up.

The film opens with a slow pan up a Japanese punk’s leather costume as she solemnly contemplates something mysterious before turning full zombie & igniting a breakout that consumes Tokyo. MIlla Jovovich, the franchise’s anchor, then narrates a plot summary of the first three films in the series, the first time Anderson found that kind of housekeeping necessary for his convoluted, yet video game-thin cyberpunk zombie yarn. We then join Alice (Jovovich) as she raids one of the Umbrella Corporation’s seemingly endless supply of underground bunkers, sporting her latest film-defining costume change: a sleek black ninja outfit complete with swords & throwing stars. A couple decapitations & some telepathic nonsense later and she’s immediately killed, revealing that she was a clone the whole time and that there are plenty more Alices where that came from (a repeat of Extinction’s opening, in a way). Some Agent Smith-looking motherfucker stabs her in the neck with a serum that takes away her ass-kicking superpowers and she spends the rest of the plot hunting him down while collecting any of the world’s straggling uninfected she can on the way.

This is easily the most low-energy, self-serious entry of the Resident Evil franchise so far. There are so many shots of Jovovich flying a small airplane, searching out the window for a purpose to be onscreen, when Afterlife could’ve just as easily held onto the army of Jovovich clones it blew up in the first scene instead and made a much more interesting picture. Besides a few zombies with some octopus mouths and a mutated giant swinging a CG axe, there just isn’t much Afterlife has to offer that you couldn’t get from the three franchise entries that precede it. The film seemingly has three directives: to openly riff on The Matrix, to make gratuitous use of the then-recent Avatar 3D technology, and to promote the A Perfect Circle single that plays multiple times throughout. Afterlife indulges in frequent enough goofy action sequences to feel occasionally worthwhile, but after the series heights of Extinction I had come to expect more than that. As a director, Anderson feels a little limp here, stuck in an outdated mode of nu metal cinema like a slightly more endearing (and significantly less funded) Zack Snyder. I’m still willing to afford the final two entries into the franchise an open mind, but the bland diminished returns of Afterlife has significantly dampened my expectations.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

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Although I found the first two titles in the Resident Evil  series fascinating in a cultural context & entertainingly goofy in select scenes of CG fantasy violence, I failed to fall head over heels for either work as an individual, stand-alone feature film. Watching Milla Jovovich weaponize a motorcycle by launching it through a stained glass church window makes for a fun, dumb action movie moment, but I’ve had a difficult time maintaining that kind of enthusiasm for the entire length of one of these zombie-themed shoot-em-ups. The third film in the franchise changed that for me. Within the first five minutes of Resident Evil: Extinction I felt a huge leap in quality, as if the series had emerged from a direct-to-DVD production value to a legitimate action cinema aesthetic. This is likely a result of hiring Razorback/Highlander director Russell Mulcahy, who cut his teeth directing music videos for 80s acts like The Buggles, The Vapors, and The Human League, to take the reins. Series mastermind Paul WS Anderson still remains a steady hand in the writer’s seat, but Mulcahy brings a slick sense of professionalism to the film’s staging that saves it from the series’ usual idiotic The Matrix But With Zombies formula.

One of the ways Extinction shakes off its stylistic rut is by hitting the reset button, opening with the exact same scenario as the first Resident Evil film. Milla Jovovich’s zombie-slaying protagonist wakes confused & unremembering in the shower, finding her iconic red dress from the franchise’s debut laid out carefully on her bed. As she tries to fight her way out of a military takeover of her home, she’s killed, the scenario is revealed to be a simulation, and her body is dumped on a pile of similarly-dressed clones in a chilling image that recalls the excellent existential horror Triangle. While The Umbrella Corporation’s main stooge (Game of Thrones’s Iian Glen) is literally trying to clone past successes of the franchise with villainous intent, Extinction then blows its derivative, campy treats wide open by shifting from Matrix knockoff to Mad Max knockoff, taking the zombie-infested shit show on the dusty, dusty road. The breakout has spread from Raccoon City to cover the entire globe, making Earth an endless Mad Max hellscape. Just like in the second Resident Evil film, an inconsequential female badass archetype leads a band of anti-Umbrella Corporation rebels until Jovovich arrives to take over. While Glen’s slick-haired corporate jerk is obsessed with cloning her, he also wants to capture & harness the Original Recipe version, which means the small group of desertscape rebels has to fight off the evil corporation in addition to the zombie hordes. Everything that goes down from there is highly stylized, but mostly predictable outside maybe Jovovich’s newfound telepathy abilities, a weaponized murder of crows the rebels fight off with flame throwers, and the casting of R&B singer Ashanti. The movie then doubles back to its origins a second time for another underground showdown with a mutated humanoid beast & some ominous warnings from a creepy child A.I. This is when Jovovich discovers the cloning project, concluding the film on a moment of existential horror.

It’s difficult to convey exactly why Extinction is of a higher quality than its two predecessors. On a writing level, its story is just as scattered & inconsequential as ever and its characters still sport dumb names like Project Alice, White Queen, and (most notably here) K-Mart. There are some new details like a serum that partially domesticates zombies, characters blowing off steam by running over zombie roadkill, and some corporate intrigue nonsense involving hologram boardroom meetings. It’s all very silly, but no more entertaining in and of itself than the silliness of previous franchise entries. I really do think it’s Mulcahy alone who elevates the material by bringing in a strong, stylistic guiding hand that the series desperately needed. He drags Resident Evil out of its nu metal era technophobia into some more timeless (but equally derivative) genre territory. Extinction is a really fun entry in a series so stupidly convoluted in its futuristic zombie mayhem that it doesn’t deserve to be so entertaining this many films in. I’m a little bummed to know that the last three contributions to the franchise all have Anderson returning to the director’s seat, because it seems like the best he can do at this point is knock down what good will Extinction built up in its break from the usual aesthetic. I won’t at all be surprised if this film stands as the best of the bunch and it’s sad to know that the most fun I’ve had with the series is likely already behind me.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

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When we binged on a small selection of “iconic” video game adaptations for episode #11 of the podcast, I was surprised to see Paul WS Anderson’s name pop up twice in a row as a director of both Mortal Kombat & Resident Evil (2002). Not only is the video game adaptation not a genre you’d typically associate with an auteur’s go-to passion for repeat offerings (outside maybe a stray Uwe Boll-type), but Anderson’s two contributions to our list were actually two of the better films, bested only by 1994’s Super Mario Bros in terms of pure entertainment value. Of his two entries, Resident Evil was the biggest surprise in terms of competency. Mortal Kombat had the narrative upper hand of a ridiculous interdimensional martial arts tournament to boost its camp value (along with a delightfully obnoxious theme song & a scenery-devouring Christopher Lambert). Resident Evil, on the other hand, was a seemingly straightforward zombie picture, so it was downright bizarre that Anderson managed to make it even moderately memorable in the face of a market that’s been overcrowded with similar works for decades. The Milla Jovovich-helmed action vehicle was actually an interesting trifle, however slight, one made novel by a wealth of weird details like A.I. children, genetically mutated beasts, and menacing corporations with dystopian designs on world domination.

What’s even more surprising than Anderson managing to make a watchable film out of the Resident Evil video game franchise is that he did not stop at just one film. The 6th (and supposedly final) entry in the series has just reached theaters over a decade later and both Anderson & Jovovich have shared some level of involvement in the series throughout its entire run, which is a much higher level of consistency than you’d expect for a zombie video game franchise. The second film in the series, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (which obviously didn’t follow through on the finality of its title) wasn’t half bad either. It expands the bunker-confined action of the lower budget first film by bringing its zombie breakout above ground. Its world-building details like the exact nature & temporal location of its Raccoon City setting, its menacing (and hilariously named) villain the Umbrella Corporation, and the exact skills & origins (and even name) of its Ripley stand-in (Jovovich), all remain fuzzy to me after two full-length features. All you need to know to make it through a Resident Evil movie is that zombies & capitalists are bad, while women & guns are good. The rest is all shoot-em-up nonsense and militaristic zombie movie mayhem, a triumph of action horror cinema only in that it should be impossible for Anderson to make something so generic so delightful to watch and, yet, he’s done it at least twice.

I think Resident Evil‘s key to surviving as a notable action horror franchise is its dedication to excess. The film couldn’t logically bring in Jovovich’s hero immediately to deal with the above-ground breakout so it created a second badass with a gun cliché (a cop named Valentine, hilariously) to shoot some undead baddies in her initial absence. There’s some first person POV shooting in a police station and found footage shenanigans with a rogue news broadcaster that helpfully treads plot water until Jovovich can burst onto the scene by flying a motorcycle through a church’s stained glass windows and then turning said motorcycle into a makeshift bomb. Once our two badass ladies join teams everything else is an action-packed blur of knives, grenades, rocket launchers, and the undead bursting out of graves like a cover version of the “Thriller” video. New locations play like video game levels. The film’s Final Boss characer is a new genetic mutant called Genesis (who vaguely resembles the version of Bane in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin). Everything is all very loud and violent and impossibly dumb, to the point where the monotone excess becomes its own artform and your options are either to play along with the film’s buffoonery or to feel like your better senses are constantly being assaulted.

I don’t care to learn any more about this series’ mythology than the little I can catch between explosions and bullets. Jared Harris (Lane from Mad Men) pops up here as some kind of smart programmer type who’s constantly hacking into the mainframe or some such nonsense and Iian Glen (Jorah from Game of Thrones) swoops in at the last minute for some Wolverine-type experiments & mumblings about clone technology, but outside of those actors’ before they were C-list stars pedigree, their presence signifies nothing. No one really matters here outside Jovovich & Anderson. Even the newly introduced & oddly omnipresent character of Valentine is mostly just a place holder until Jovovich can arrive above-ground, guns & motorcycle blazing (and the less I say about the film’s wisecracking pimp comic relief, the better). I’m sincerely amazed that a single filmmaker & a single performer have stuck with such an explosively inane series for as long as Jovovich & Anderson have. I also wonder if there are wholeheartedly dedicated fans of the series out there who care deeply about its AI, genetic monsters, and walking dead mythology enough to have been counting the days until the series wrapped up in its final installment. I can’t imagine being at all invested in Resident Evil’s narrative throughline & overarching themes, but I will admit that these films are much louder, dumber, and more entertainingly chaotic than I expected them to be and I’m curious about how they can keep up that stamina for four more installments.

-Brandon Ledet

Resident Evil (2002)

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I’m not a video game nerd. The last legitimate gaming system I got excited about was the Nintendo 64. The only one I’ve bought since was a used Wii and that beaten-up relic served exclusively as an emulator for NES games. As such, I’ve never had much interest in the Resident Evil film franchise. My limited knowledge of the series, based entirely on vague hearsay about its video game source material, has been that it’s about a lady who shoots zombies in some kind of underground bunker. While I’m not over the moon about video games as an entertainment medium, I do actively seek out eccentrically inane movies, but there was just never anything about yet another zombie action horror starring a sexy lady with a pile of guns that had much promise for Super Mario Bros. levels of potential silliness in a cinematic video game adaptation. There are now five Resident Evil movies in what has become a decade-long franchise, however, which lead me to suspect that there was more going on here than just a walking dead genre pic with little to no distinguishing features in a crowded field of zombie media. It’s true, too. Resident Evil is more than just a zombie-filled shoot-em-up featuring a beautiful woman with a giant gun. In fact, it actually kinda holds its own as one of the sillier & more entertaining video game adaptations out there, much to my surprise.

While I wasn’t exactly wrong in assuming Resident Evil centered on a widespread epidemic of generic zombie mayhem, I did the movie a huge disservice by reducing its setting to a mere underground bunker. The symbolically named Umbrella Corporation (a detail I assume was carried over from the video game), which periodically deals with very normal corporate modes of money making & privately makes most of its profit off of biochemical weaponry, is the owner of said underground bunker, known as The Hive. The bunker’s underground employees, blissfully unaware of the company’s warmongering, are transformed into the aforementioned zombie horde when one of the more volatile chemicals they work on is released through the bunker’s vents (supposedly) by mistake. As the infected, undead Umbrella Corporation employees transform into monsters, they also become moving targets for a team of leather-clad supersoldiers & a Borne Identity/American Ultra type badass who can’t remember her past but seems to know more about the facility than she should. As her memory slowly returns, our hero must piece together whether or not she’s responsible for the initial outbreak or if there’s some kind of other, larger betrayal unfolding before her. Meanwhile, The Umbrella Corporation’s surveillance cameras seem to be recording these supersoldiers’ every move as they become unwitting participants in a zombie-killing, viral experiment. Also, some strange, not at all human creatures & a childlike AI hologram pop in to push the movie past its zombie-stomping roots into some strange sci-fi horror territory. Its all a lot more fun & complex than I expected, however corny & hamfisted.

Resident Evil comes from a time when video game adaptations were attempting to move on from children’s movie fare like 90s productions Street Fighter & Double Dragon into something more violent & “adult,” like Doom. Director Paul W.S. Anderson splits the difference & lands the film halfway between PG-13 & R (not that the MPAA saw it that way) in terms of sensibility. There’s a violence & grittiness in the film’s nonstop parade of zombies on fire, exposed muscle Rottweiler demons, undefinable The Thing-type mutants, and flashbacks to a blurred sexual encounter the film appears to find very important to the plot, but something about the way they’re handled makes it play like kids’ stuff, just like Anderson’s surprising violent (and even more surprisingly competent) Mortal Kombat adaptation. This is a teenager’s sweet spot in terms of maturity level, a tone easily recognizable in the film’s choice to dress its star, Milla Jovovich, in a post-apocalyptic negligee for most of its runtime & two sheets of paper-thin hospital gauze at its climax. Jovovich’s ass kicking commitment to the role, combined with similar sincerity from Fast & Furious “family member” Michell Rodriguez, cuts down on some of that teenage boy booby-ogling, though, to the point that it mixes with the intense body horror, George Romero brand zombie mayhem, and stray notes of otherworldly sci-fi (an aesthetic Anderson accomplished a lot more with in his film Event Horizon) to make for a fairly decent, amusingly campy action cheapie I would’ve loved had I seen it when it was haunting theaters & I was 15. I appreciate Resident Evil‘s teen nerd immaturity & casual adoption of weird video game ideas in its matter-of-fact silliness. At the very least, its a far better adaptation than the Rock vehicle Doom, which aims for a similar aesthetic, and it got me curious enough about where the series could go from such a ludicrous starting point that I just might check out Anderson’s five gratuitous followups now that I’ve finally been initiated.

-Brandon Ledet