For Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Paul W.S. Anderson runs audiences through a gauntlet of successive phases rather than a three-act narrative, pushed on by a ticking clock. Given 48 hours to save humanity from annihilation, Alice (Milla Jovovich) must fight her way back to Umbrella’s Hive facility–where the series and its myriad zombies, mutants, clones, deathtraps, and global corporate conspiracies began–for an airborne cure. The opening stretch is a sprint straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, Alice contending with Umbrella security and a newly-revived Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), who’s fashioned himself a fundamentalist Christian prophet, riding in a moving fortress leading thousands of zombies on a genocide march. The film slows down a tad in Raccoon City, where Alice meets with a group of survivors, led once again by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), in time for a siege. Then, there’s a mad, final dash through the Hive’s winding corridors of doom for requisite plot twists and mind-screwing, with Isaacs and Wesker (Shawn Roberts) waiting in the wings. As always, the only constant is Jovovich, determining her way through annihilation.
Though it mines plot details from all its predecessors, The Final Chapter most closely hews to series high-point Extinction. It’s not just the white line nightmares and rusted DIY contraptions, but an overriding sense of futility. We’re introduced to the aftermath of Retribution‘s teased final stand, utterly devastated, with Alice stumbling through the ruins looking for water. Presumably, all the survivors of that film have been snuffed, Alien 3-style. A faint glimmer of salvation, offered by previously homicidal A.I. the Red Queen (Ever Anderson), is met with skepticism and hostility. Even the film’s biggest stake, the fate of humanity’s remaining settlement, is left off-screen, a question mark hanging over its very existence. Five movies’ worth of fakeouts and impenetrable machinations haven’t inspired confidence; Alice and gang only go along because their only other choice is waiting around to die. Even a sub-thread which returns us to the question of Alice’s origins is summed in a single line from Jovovich: “Sometimes I feel I spent my whole life running, killing.”
Anderson never hangs on this misery, palpable as it is. It lurks around the edges of The Final Chapter, grist for Alice to pulverize enemies in jittery fight sequences–overloaded with cuts, thanks to to Neveldine-Taylor editor Doobie White. The longest we’re ever held on to a moment is an agonizing wind tunnel setpiece, Alice straining to hold onto a comrade she rescued moments ago (from the same spinning blade trap). The music swells. Jovovich grits her teeth and tightens her grip. There’s a slip. Just a little longer. Her charge loses hold, is sucked in and diced. The power dies, the fans stop too late. Alice screams, continued frustration boiling over at last. Another life she couldn’t save.
In a movie series built out of trap-laden corridors, platformer-logic architecture, and recycled candy-colored carnage, guilt is a curious recurring device. Alice in Resident Evil attempted to hold a group together through sheer force of will, and failed. It set the tone for the sequels’ war of attrition, some losses stinging more than others. It’s an obvious fascination for Anderson and Jovovich, often paired with themes of exploitation and abuse of power crushing individuals (it’s revealed Umbrella deliberately started the zombie outbreak to save the world for the rich and powerful, an endgame built around “reboot[ing] it in our image”–an unsubtle nod to the movies’ fates). Their creation, Alice, relives torment over and over as she fends off cannibals both undead and executive. She fights and endures to keep in the same place. Like all the previous entries, The Final Chapter wants us hurrying along to the next trap, the next monster fight, the next labyrinthine plot twist rather than wrestling with anything like subtext. It’s only in the volume of them do the Resident Evils approach anything resembling a thesis, which is its own kind of brilliance.