After having reminded myself of Paul W.S. Anderson’s lack of any cinematic ability with Aliens Vs. Predator, I went into Resident Evil: Apocalypse knowing that, what with Paul W.S. Anderson being both writer and producer, there was a very strong possibility that it would be dreadful. And guess what? It was!
If there was any film that sounded the death knell for the traditional, common-or-garden zombie — slow, shuffling, bits dropping off — then it was 28 Days Later. Whereas before, to get killed by zombies really required you to help them out a bit by running into large crowds of them, getting yourself backed into a corner, running out of ammunition and so on, 28 Days Later gave us zombies that would actually run after you. In terms of shifting paradigms, this was the equivalent of that moment in Doctor Who when the Daleks used rockets to climb stairs. We went from scenes such as this:
“I say, Carruthers, zombies! On the horizon!”
“Lum! I’ll put the kettle on, then. Fancy a game of Gin Rummy?”
To scenes such as this:
“I say, Carraaghgaghargsuqsuqsuhsqhsqsh!”
You couldn’t go back after that. Recent remake Dawn Of The Dead only had them slow and shuffling on occasion; when they got their bone on, it was Linford Christie time. In fact, it’s telling that the only zombie film of recent years to feature the traditional zombie is the parody Shawn Of The Dead. RE:A doesn’t feature the traditional zombie, nor does it feature the souped-up modern-day zombie. Instead, it chooses a third option; that is, the ‘slow-motion, motion-blurred, barely-visible, “I hope we get a PG-13 rating for this”’ option.
I have to admit at this stage that zombie movies do freak me out. Not while watching them; it’s usually when I’m walking home from the screening, or alone in a house at night, and then my wandering mind suddenly remembers a scene — for instance, the little girl during the opening sequence of Dawn Of The Dead, or the bit in 28 Days Later when wossname the hero is looking at family memorabilia and one of the infected, attracted by his light, launches himself through the window to attack — and then my mind suddenly notices the isolation, or the dark, or that basement door that’s now curiously ajar, and starts working overtime. RE:A is impressive, in that not a single scene is even slightly scary. It didn’t even make me jump. Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m watching a horror film, I want, at some stage, to be scared. Is it really too much to ask?
The film almost seems embarrassed by its zombie heritage, and as such they feature only as occasional scenery. There’s a few (hard to tell how many, what with the amateur film-school blurring effects) towards the start, and then later on there’s some in a street, then a few in the school, and then some at the end, but they feel incidental, and given that the entire city is supposed to have been infected, fairly thinly-spread as well. When you have this sort of shuffling, trudging zombie, the only way they can feel threatening is by force of numbers, or if you’re trapped in an enclosed space; the first film did ok, but this one never feels as if the heroes of the story are in any danger that they can’t just run away from.
It doesn’t have much of a plot — a McPlot, perhaps, or a plot-style PlotNugget — and appears to be an exercise in getting Milla Jovovich from the sequel-friendly ending of the first film to another sequel-friendly ending (opening the way for Resident Evil: Afterlife). The premise is that the zombifying T-Virus of the first film is released into the wild, and Raccoon City has to be evacuated, then quarantined, then eventually nuked from the air (“It’s the only way to be sure”). The scientist responsible for creating the T-Virus in the first place is outside the city, and uses CCTV and the telephone network to communicate with our plucky cast of C-list stars, offering them a way out of the city if they rescue his daughter.
Meanwhile, Milla returns as Alice Plus!, apparently experimented upon by the Umbrella Corporation and now stronger, faster, and with an increased propensity to take part in ridiculous set-pieces (really, who drives a motorbike through a stained-glass window into a church, anyway?). The male survivor from the first film also returns, albeit as ‘Nemesis’, a big mutant killing machine with big guns and teeth, and remotely controlled. The two of them are released into the city to see which one’s better, and seeing as one of them is big, ugly, and a mutant, and the other is sleeping with the producer, it’s not a big leap of faith to suggest that Nemesis is going to be dead before the final act is over.
As a sop to the purists, Jill Valentine, who starred in the third Resident Evil game after failing the Tomb Raider audition appears here wearing the same impractical outfit that she wears in the game. Honestly, you’re surrounded by things that want to bite your flesh — maybe wear a big thick coat? Some Kevlar? Perhaps some shin-pads? Short skirt and boob-tube — you’re asking for trouble. Apparently Sienna Guillory, who plays Valentine, based her movements of the character by watching the way the character moves in the game. Knowing this in advance, I was left disappointed that at no stage in the film did she turn around by stopping dead and rotating slowly on the spot, nor did she ever get stuck going through a door at the wrong angle.
As far as I could tell, almost all of the film is taken up by attempts at giving Milla stylish ‘cool’ action sequences, but they’re ludicrous, and when you’re watching a film about zombies and thinking “But that’s ridiculous!” then you know there’s a problem somewhere. For example, as Valentine escapes from the school, turns on the gas, but fails to light a fire to ignite it, it’s ok — our Milla’s outside the school, waiting not only with a light, but a fire-retardant blanket as well, unfurled and ready to be wrapped around both herself and the rescued schoolgirl. Huh? Handy though it was, why on earth would she have been waiting like that? Or earlier on, killing some sort of wee mutant beastie in a church by driving a motorbike into it and exploding the bike whilst back-flipping out of reach of the explosion, then just shooting the other ones. Bit of an extravagant waste of a bike, I thought.
Even though Anderson didn’t actually direct this film — directorial duties are instead taken by Alexander Witt, who directs here for the first time (though has a sterling portfolio of assistant roles) — it feels very much like Anderson was heavily involved. The juvenile, nonsensical set-pieces, the limp action and unappealing, faceless characters, the flaccid end twists…I’m getting very tired of him screwing the pooch like this. It’s as if a 14-year old boy has been given unlimited funding and instructed to ‘make something, like, really cool’.
I don’t know. Perhaps I should just read books instead.