The first Resident Evil flick comes with a look that suggests a direct to video actioner. Paul W.S. Anderson shoots his game adaptation in a lot of tight close-ups, mostly staged in empty corridors, impersonal sewers, and a train car. The bigger set pieces seem like loans: a bio-mechanical pod room loaded with monstrosities may as well come from an aborted Alien installment; a sequence involving a sterile, booby-trapped room has clear influences from Vincenzo Natali’s Cube; the nu metal/EDM soundtrack even cannibalizes Anderson’s own stab at Mortal Kombat. Obviously, the zombies saunter in from Romero. These disparate threads of influence, along with a text/VO prologue introducing series’ bads the Umbrella Corporation, create a ramshackle aesthetic, as if multiple, cancelled film projects were melded into a misshapen hybrid. Perhaps this is Anderson’s ode to the work of Albert Pyun?
Whatever the case, the film is largely a misfire, elevated by its director’s formal playfulness. Anderson glides and pans along, his camera poring over reflective surfaces, color-saturated faces, and CCTV footage. His script, however, substitutes the escalating, Gothic dread of Shinji Mikami’s franchise starter with repetitive action beats lifted from Cameron. Any sense of mystery–about Umbrella, their corpse-reanimating T-virus, the commandos they’ve hired, even the infected facility they investigate–is dispensed early on, leaving amnesiac kung-fu lead Alice (Milla Jovovich) to learn reiterated information through dialogue or flashbacks. The only looming questions are who caused the infection (a dull whodunnit) and the motivations of a prowling A.I. voiced by a little girl (better, but unexplored). Anderson is more invested in photographing badass women: Jovovich’s Alice in her red dress/black boots and shorts attire, is an arresting visual next to the blue-brown-whites of her surroundings, set immediately apart from her leather-clad comrades even before she ninja kicks a mutant hound. Her foil is the more butch Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), a doomed trooper who talks like one of the boys about “getting laid.” Both are steely and resolved when the situation turns south, while the men around them fluster and panic. Alice yells everyone through the crucible, while Rain responds to multiple bites by unloading her pistol on zombies. No bullshit, no cowering. One could imagine, if they both made it out alive, they’d become a lot closer.