Paul Anderson’s directorial return to the Resident Evil franchise is pure, delirious momentum. Afterlife opens with a dreamy, slow-mo sequence of Tokyo’s patient zero in their corner of the T-virus outbreak, capped with a zoom-out depicting fleeing civilians and their candy-colored umbrellas as individual cells in the death of the planetary body. Then, we’re racing through the promise of Extinction‘s finale, as Alice and her clone army assault the Umbrella Corporation’s headquarters, looking to kill (the now posh-voiced) Albert Wesker. She loses her duplicates and her powers in the process, but Alice destroys her enemies, then sets out to find the survivors she parted with.
This go-go-go mentality comes with cheaper production values. Resident Evil: Extinction brought a polished sheen to the franchise: crane and tracking shots, scale models and crisp cinematography were used to pore over surface details. Afterlife, however, has grainy, digital, green-screen backdrops, atop which CG objects are flung at the screen in 3D. The middle stretch of the film is a muddy brown wash, ugly save the occasional color saturation from a light source. Anderson seems to be stacking up all the worst tendencies of contemporary blockbusters as a challenge, and it works. The disconnect between backdrops and actors, combined with Tomandandy’s electronic score and a relentless stream of zombie variants (specifically importing Resident Evil 4 and 5‘s Las Plagas out of nowhere), stress unreality. Alice, despite lacking her God Mode abilities, still tackles the impossible with ease, swinging off rooftops guns a-blazing or obliterating skulls with shotgun blasts using quarters as ammo. Action often comes dosed with bullet-time. Spatial dimensions seem impossible, even before we get to the pearly bowels of a nightmare barge offering false salvation. Anderson has traded off the Pyun aesthetic, but he’s still operating in (and ramping up) the direct-to-video milieu which propelled his first Resident Evil.
With that, there’s also a (welcome) renewed emphasis on a bond between strong women in her reunion with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), whose sudden amnesia mirrors Alice’s previous affliction (Wentworth Miller’s butch, growly Chris Redfield toys with being a foil to James Purefoy’s Spence, Alice’s duplicitous work-husband from the earlier film. Both are question marks that hang over the middle section of their respective films). The darker hues in Milla Jovovich’s hair and the throaty tones in her voice evoke Michelle Rodriguez as Rain. Alice is portrayed as instinctively taking a role to help Claire through her trauma. The relationship’s mutual, though: when Alice is KO’d by a big motherfucker with an axe, Claire wastes no time unloading her pistol on him, then going in for a kill.