Resident Evil (2002) loosely borrows elements from a hit survival horror video game series that it managed to surpass in box office returns as it spawned a parallel alternative universe of its own. The games it drew its eponymous liking from are nearly all set in one central location: typically a menacing, long-abandoned residence, before your path branches out toward ancillary locations. It features introspective captions when you interact with environment such as: “the howling of animals can be heard on and off in the distance,” and “the warmth of the lamp is soothing,” and “the eyes seem to stare back at you as you move.” Such descriptive clues appear when you examine a window, a lantern and an oil panting, respectively. Moments of that solitary reflection amidst the mayhem arrive as a reprieve from a madness that has now morphed into a ceaseless rhythm in the movie franchise. Those verbal renditions of a wary traveler’s reveries are found nowhere in the two films I’ve managed to bother with, and from the looks of it, anywhere else for that matter. Thus when Paul WS Anderson knelt for his symbolic bow at the end of Resident Evil, all my ears could detect was the deafening thud from drapes lowered too low, hitting the stage floor below.
It’s a thump that, along with the subsequent silence, was louder and more resonant than any sound effect emitted beforehand. It’s a sound that echoes to this day in testament to a film that did more to ruin an adolescent’s imagination than vellus hair on a woman’s bosom. I cannot recollect the precise moment that triggered my disillusionment with brining a beloved video game to the screen, but I do remember its anticlimax lasting for a couple of days. The original, while crude and unpolished, presented a captivating spatial puzzle that the sequel expounded on across several facets. The narrative continuation, improved gameplay mechanics, and refinement of its signature ambience stand out in that regard. The original was so rudimentary and dated, its remake has usurped it inside the fanbase’s consciousness. All in all, the departure from the game’s nucleus coincided with the shelf life of the original firmly retreating into the rearview mirror given a slew of sequels had evolved the known formula before Anderson’s involvement. Seventeen year old me had not grasped the implications of a media product’s life cycle and its tight window of profitability.
Like with all of cinema, I did cherish the memory of anticipating [and planning to watch] it while my uncle was in town for spring break. Michigan, March 2002. A high school senior, in a foreign country, with what the promise of post-secondary education once held lying ahead. It was a momentous downer, all told, and I grappled for days with my (still) reasonable entitlement to enjoy a full-bore cinematic rendition of the games’ signature scares. Mainly, the mansion itself posing an insurmountable obstacle mocking those attempting to forge a safe path within its decaying nooks. The sleek metallic surfaces and wall panels of the underground facility channeled images from an aborted videogame sequel set in a modern police precinct. That was a subconscious response. And while it was defensible for the production to find cover behind the medium’s constraints limiting the execution, little else survived from the game barring the name.
One of its damning shortcomings today was the stark photogenic disparity between headliners (Jovovich) and extras (the undead horde). Between that, dodgy CGI—zombie dogs excepted—and thrift-store costumes, one need not hire consultants to audit where the budget went. Even with the mansion, where the commencement act takes place, viewers are presented with the smoking gun; the dull sheen on mock wood furnishings proved an early dead giveaway of that poor allocation. There’s nothing resident about it. It’s foregone the centering element a place of residence houses and exudes. And while its novel appropriation of the game’s expedition is present, it’s an evil more itinerant than resident. It was a game meant to embody survival and isolation, and the rationing of scarce resources. And when the deliberation of managing all of the above was eschewed, too little remained of the game to give a damn about the similarities. Again, more a re-appropriation than an adaptation attempt, and few would bother with a loose rendition of the latter had the game’s name not been slapped on the title, I can understand Anderson’s alternate version. I also can forgive the emission of characters, locations and the reliance on the puzzle-solving tropes clearly superfluous to the cinematic medium. It’s the departure from its isolated mood that is the main gripe.