Now if I've read the dedicated Resident Evil fans correctly, I've gone all about this the wrong way. You see I'd watched all the films either on or at least within a year or two of their initial release way before being introduced to the games. I've now played 4 and 5, in the wrong order I might add and I'm very much of the mind set they're two branches of the same tree, complimenting each other and idealistically twinned but not necessarily needing to follow exactly the same rules or tell the same stories. I mean from where I'm sitting the whole RE world is a bit far fetched and incoherent so what's in a bit of artistic licence.
With this in mind I went back to Resident Evil (1) with some trepidation. As well as having generally low expectations of it, just as a film, because I'm now more immersed in the gaming side of RE I expected to be outraged at writer and director Paul W. S. Anderson's total betrayal of its origins. However, now I've watched it again, whilst I'll happily acknowledge it's definitely a different take on the universe, I also think the film does work as a worthy tribute to the franchise and is a well written, well acted, bloody good claustrophobic sci-fi action zombie romp to boot.
Under Raccoon City the all powerful Umbrella Corporation conduct highly dangerous and hugely profitable top secret biological, chemical and genetic experimentation. The research facility known as the Hive is manned by 500 people and after the genetically engineered T-virus gets loose, the facility's artificial intelligence kicks in and controls the situation by killing all those contaminated and sealing itself off from the rest of the world.
So to the star of the show; Alice (Milla Jovovich) regains consciousness naked in the shower of a mansion above The Hive with no memory of who she is or what she's doing there. She stumbles into Matt (Eric Mabius) an investigative journalist who's trying to find evidence of The Umbrella Corporation's illegal and immoral work just as a crack group of commandos sent to investigate the situation storm the building.
Taking Alice and Matt with them they infiltrate The Hive, uncover fellow amnesiac Spence (James Purefoy) and explain they work for Umbrella and have been sent to investigate why the computer AI known as The Red Queen has killed everyone and how Alice and Spence have been gassed by the Red Queen causing them to forget they also worked for Umbrella as a married undercover couple protecting the mansion.
After a few mishaps getting past the AI's defences, the depleted group get themselves to the core of the Red Queen and successfully reboot her despite her warnings. With her defences down the depleted gang learn the hard way that she was the only thing protecting them from the effects the T-virus has had on the staff of the facility.
The T-virus is of course the zombie virus and the staff have all been infected. As we're introduced to Anderson's zombies we find they adhere to the established traditional western model; they're mindless and driven by impulse and a primal desire for the sustenance of human flesh, they require severe head trauma (read: bullet to the noggin) to put them down permanently and they seem to prefer to roam in packs. As we've seen before the T-virus is transmitted through blood so a bite or a scratch and you're in trouble. What's interesting here though is that if treated quickly, I'm assuming before the victim dies, there's actually an anti-virus.
With the zombie threat released the film becomes a battle for survival with the group desperately trying to make their way out before the automatic defences kick in and the facility is locked down for good. On this journey Alice starts to regain her memories and the fact she's not a helpless pretty young thing but actually a kick-ass ultimate fighting champion. As she kicks, jumps, weaves, punches and shoots with pin point precision through many tight action-packed zombie sequences we realise the suspense and horror of the first half of the film has made way for something else but it's no big loss; Anderson seems at home with the high octane stuff and it's meticulously constructed and highly stylised.
Anderson has done a fantastic job of producing a coherent tight claustrophobic sci-fi experience full of suspense and great action scenes. The soldiers are a bit formulaic and there isn't much depth to the characters but there's enough there for the film to get by. From Alice waking alone and confused in an empty house her journey overcoming her amnesia is used to drive the narrative, and the film does a good job of aligning this with the pace of action. A slow intense start builds to a frenetic action based climax and whilst I didn't particularly care for the super-mutant that's pitted against the survivors I didn't actively dislike it and it produced a fist-thumping good ending.
As I've said before I think Anderson has done a good job of paying homage to the franchise as well as crafting a solid zombie survival story that stands up against the genre. I don't see Resident Evil on many top zombie film lists and this is a pity as there's really nothing really very wrong with it. Strong, stylish and a little different, 8/10.