a critiQal film review Resident Evil (2002)

Plot: In "The Hive", a top-secret underground lab, a virus has just been released that causes the dead to rise. A team of paramilitary commandos, sent to figure out why The Hive's supercomputer killed everyone in the labs, unknowingly unleash the dead...and now they're in for the fight of their lives.

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Since Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) is hitting theaters this September, I figured now would be a good time to look back at the previous films in the series (similar to what I did with Rush Hour 3 (2007))…starting off with Resident Evil.

I remember seeing Resident Evil as my birthday movie way back in ’02. While I’m not a big fan of the video games (I think I played #4 once – for about half an hour), the previews made the movie look like it would be worth watching. And, since it was hitting theaters on my birthday, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to check it out.

And I was impressed. But, that was 5 years ago. Would I still feel the same way about the film now? Or had this one fun movie lost some of it’s flair?

Milla Jovovich, who has done a decent – but not great – job in films like The Fifth Element (1997), takes the lead for the first time in Resident Evil. The film starts her off seeming meek and timid, but by the end she’s developed into a strong female heroine type, and kicks butt and takes names with the best of ’em. It’s a good role for her, as she doesn’t have to be a great actor to keep the viewers tuned in – she just has to be not horrible…and her looking good on-screen is a plus as well.

She also has a great supporting cast backing her up in Resident Evil. Colin Salmon leads the commandos as their captain, and his commanding voice lends a great narrative feel as he introduces the audience to what’s going on. While he isn’t on-screen a whole lot, he really gets the audience to believe in his character, and is a great lead-in to introducing the audience to the other characters. He does a great job of catching the viewer’s attention, and then helps shift that attention to the other characters – namely Milla – once the viewer is involved.

Michelle Rodriguez shows she’s good at the army brat/commando role (a role she plays again a year later in S.W.A.T. (2003)). Eric Mabius, James Purefoy and Martin Crewes also do a decent job in their roles in Resident Evil. But this is Milla’s movie, and Colin and Michelle are her biggest helpers.

The plot turns Resident Evil from just another zombie flick into something more interesting. While the virus that raises the dead is interesting, the film adds in a couple other plot twists that really boost the film: they are underground, so must fight off the undead in a confined space; they don’t realize the virus has been released until they are a long way from the entrance; they have to deal with a supercomputer – complete with artificial intelligence – that is intent on containing the virus. Plus, two of the characters are suspected of unleashing the virus in the lab and, thanks to a nerve agent that wiped both of their memories temporarily while rendering them unconscious, they aren’t sure who it was.

These subplots help add in that extra tension needed to create a really good horror film. That way, even if viewers are bored with the zombie motif, they still have reasons to stick around and find “whodunit”.

But what zombie film is complete without it’s special effects? None – and Resident Evil doesn’t disappoint there either. With some rather disgusting zombies and even a zombie-dog (or 4), the zombies, while not the best ever seen on screen, are decent enough to work as the enemy of the film.

A lot of films (including at times this one) go for the major horror to make zombies work, but sometimes it’s the simpler things that are more eerie. While Resident Evil shows one zombie with half of it’s face missing, the creepiest of the lot is the one walking with one foot twisted off to the side. The sound of the bones cracking and grinding as he steps is a lot freakier than the larger grotesqueness of the man missing half his face, and is sure to send chills through any audience member.

Still, Resident Evil doesn’t stop there. It tosses in a great, thoroughly haunting, score and some fun directing by Paul W.S. Anderson (who showed with Mortal Kombat (1995) he’s good at turning video games into films) – not to mention a few other surprises – as icing on the cake.

While some may shy away from Resident Evil thanks to the video-game-turned-movie stigmata, they shouldn’t. With all of it’s pieces working together, it’s a top-notch horror film, tossed with a bit of a murder-mystery element.

With a start like this, it’s no wonder they are still making sequels.

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