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Resident Evil 2002 movie anniversary
Image: New Legacy Film

Film

Resident Evil Reminds Us That Games Don’t Make for Great Movies

More like Resident Upheaval.

20 Years Later…
Revisiting Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil

Besides the fact that watching others blast heads off zombies isn’t nearly as fun as doing the shooting yourself, the first Resident Evil movie is average at best and a totally different beast from the masterpiece that is the first game. Most people at the time thought so too, as Resident Evil met with unfavorable to lukewarm reviews upon its release, averaging just 4.52/10. That score is definitely on par, because in spite of some cool monster critters and one very imaginative death-by-laser sequence, Resident Evil doesn’t have an awful lot going for it. Next to nothing, in fact.

Unlike the first Resident Evil game, it’s (mostly) not set in a mansion, but instead The Hive, a laboratory underneath Raccoon City where all hell has broken loose. A deadly virus has turned every personnel member into a nasty flesh-eating piece of work and finding themselves trapped right in the middle of it all, the protagonists have just three hours to shut down the facility and the supercomputer controlling it. If they don’t, the virus will break out and take hold of the entire planet. It’s all very familiar, reminding us of tightly-contained high stake scenarios like in John Carpenter’s The Thing. The underground setting further adds to the claustrophobia factor.

Resident Evil's notorious undead dogs
Image: New Legacy Film

In terms of enemies, it’s your usual suspects – zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Only problem is, they’re more humorous than menacing. On the plus side, there is an out-of-control supercomputer (‘Red Queen’) to contend with which is very creepily voiced by a young girl, making darkness out of light. It (she?) watches them through CCTV screens and regularly interacts.

The film doesn’t take many cues from the game and is about as faithful as a runaway husband. Instead, Resident Evil steers away from the horror elements and becomes more of a straight-action shooter and a pretty mediocre one at that. It is closer to Resident Evil 2 and 3, but even then, the connection is tenuous at best. George Romero was originally going to write the script, and his version would have been more horror-based. Instead, the job fell to Paul W. S. Anderson who, despite being obsessed with the games, opted for pleasing the general public rather than any casual or hardcore fans of the series. Plaudits for going and doing his own thing, but it’s tempting to wonder if that was the best choice because he didn’t even please the majority of that same public. Resident Evil does at least feature undead Doberman dogs, which were responsible for some of the game’s greatest scares. It’s one of the few saving graces.

The problem with Anderson’s ‘stick or twist’ dilemma is that whilst he does head in his own direction, he can’t exactly ditch the classic Resident Evil feel altogether, leading to something of an identity crisis by having awkward elements of horror in what is otherwise a fast-paced action movie. And opting for action over horror was never going to go down well with those accustomed to seeing the series through the lens of the games anyway.

One of Resident Evil's more over-the-top creatures
Image: New Legacy Film

Resident Evil would go on to spawn six movie sequels, which is probably the best thing it’s done (if you can bear them). The goofy action, it is true, can be mildly entertaining, but by identifying itself as part of the famed survival horror series, Resident Evil raises expectations and sets itself up for failure almost before the credits have rolled. This is a shame, because in an alternate universe somewhere, there could be a much better George Romero-written version of Resident Evil. Instead, what we have is a largely forgettable action shooter that lingers near the bottom of the pile with the rest of the other game-to-movie adaptations. The fact that it’s nowhere near the worst definitely isn’t saying much.

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Written By

Hailing from Troon, Scotland, Michael is a plucky wordsmith and all-around pop culture enthusiast who believes that games and films are more than just a casual pastime and deserve to be thought and written about. Most of them, anyway! When he’s not working, writing, or out hiking in nature, he also enjoys old black-and-white horror films, matching his dark sense of humor.

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