Well, after reviewing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” recently, I thought that I’d go back and take another look at the first film in the series.
Although I ended up buying a DVD boxset of the first four films (since it was actually cheaper to buy this second-hand than buying the films individually), I don’t know how many more of them I’ll end up reviewing.
Anyway, “Resident Evil” is a film that I first saw at the cinema when I was thirteen. Ever since I read in a games mag that they were turning this videogame series into a film, I just had to see it (and, luckily, getting into the film under-age wasn’t as difficult as I had feared). I was so excited! It seemed like it would be the coolest thing in the world. But, when I actually saw it, I felt somewhat cheated. The film seemed to be very different to the games that I had enjoyed so much.
But, given how my reaction to seeing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” changed when I revisited it as an adult, I was curious to see if what I’d think about the first film in the series would be any different over a decade and a half later. And, yes, seeing this film again totally changed my opinion of it.
Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, but I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause problems.
“Resident Evil” is a sci-fi/horror film from 2002 (starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius and James Purefoy) that is very loosely based on the “Resident Evil” videogame franchise.
The film begins with a voice-over that explains how the Umbrella Corporation has become one of the most powerful corporations in America. The film then cuts to one of the company’s secret underground laboratories, where a vial of mysterious blue chemical is released by an unknown character.
A while later, the facility suddenly goes into emergency lockdown. The lifts begin to malfunction dangerously and the facility’s central computer looks on impassively as the crowded hallways are flooded with halon gas and the sprinkler systems begin to drown the scientists working in the laboratories.
Back on the surface, a woman called Alice wakes up in the bathroom of a stately home with no memory of who she is or why she is there. After she explores the house for a while and encounters a mysterious man, a team of masked commandos suddenly burst through the windows.
They arrest the man and tell Alice that she is one of the company’s operatives. They have been sent to the house in order to investigate what has happened in the laboratory below, and they want to take Alice and the mystery man with them…
One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it is much better than I remember. Unlike the action-packed sequel, this is a proper horror film.
Although it still has a sensible running time (97 minutes), this film actually takes a decent amount of time to build up suspense and atmosphere – with the first zombie attack not even happening until 37 minutes into the film. Likewise, although there are certainly thrilling moments of action in this film, the emphasis is much more firmly on horror, suspense and storytelling than action.
The fact that most of the film takes place in a confined underground laboratory really helps to add a sense of claustrophobia and tension to the film. This is in keeping with the spirit of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames, even if the characters and the details of the story are very different.
The film’s suspense is further increased by the fact that the laboratory is being run by a sociopathic artificial intelligence called the Red Queen, who has no compunction about killing people.
Likewise, when the zombies appear in this film, they often appear in overwhelming hordes that the main characters have no chance of actually defeating. This usually means that the characters often have to rely on their wits more than on their guns, which also increases the level of suspense in the film dramatically. The fact that the characters also realise that they only have a limited time to escape the facility helps with the suspense too.
As for the horror elements of this film, they work reasonably well. Although this film probably won’t give you nightmares, there’s a good mixture of jump scares, grisly moments, atmospheric horror, body horror, monster-based horror and character-based horror.
In terms of the characters, this film is reasonably good. Although there isn’t really that much in the way of deep characterisation, the characters often come across as vaguely realistic soldiers and operatives, rather than superhuman action heroes. Likewise, this is one of those 1990s-style thriller films where there is slightly more focus on teamwork than on individual heroics too. The film’s cast all put in a reasonably good performance too, with no glaringly obvious examples of bad acting.
The film’s special effects are reasonably decent for the time too. For a film made in the early 2000s, some of the CGI effects are good- with the highlights being both the film’s famous “laser grid” scene and the Red Queen’s creepy hologram.
Some of the film’s CGI monsters and CGI models look a little bit dated though. However, many of the film’s effects seem to be timeless practical effects, which still work reasonably well.
In terms of the film’s set design and lighting, it’s fairly good. A lot of the film takes place in an underground lab that looks both coldly futuristic and ominously disused. As you would expect from a sci-fi horror film, there’s also a decent amount of cool-looking high-contrast lighting. However, the film also uses bright, harsh cold lighting reasonably often too.
As for the film’s music, it’s reasonably good. Especially near the beginning of the film, the music is often used to build tension and suspense in a reasonably effective way. Another stand-out moment is that Slipknot’s “My Plague” plays during the end credits. Even though I’m not a massive Slipknot fan (although “Wait and Bleed” is a pretty good song), this song is surprisingly catchy and it has a really cool chorus.
All in all, this is a reasonably decent sci-fi/horror film. Whilst the characters and the story differ greatly from the games it is based on, it is at least reasonably close to them in spirit. Instead of being a ridiculously fast-paced action movie, it is a slightly slower-paced suspenseful horror film (with some fast-paced moments). And, on it’s own merits, it’s actually a reasonably good film.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.