Resident Evil

Resident Evil ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Who knew that Paul W.S. Anderson's modest sandbox take on the Resident Evil series of video games would spawn at least four theatrically-released sequels?

Resident Evil opens with a confusing, in-media-res first act that recalls Without Warning, and later Aliens. From go the model is action over exposition, style over story. Any basic story outline is explained to memory-wiped audience-surrogate Alice (Milla Jovovich) via sporadic flashbacks and break-neck dialog, paired with CGI cutaways that look like video-game load-screens. The dialog and narrative construction are equally indebted to games: exchanges are completely functional and robotic, all mannered procedure and policy.

Anderson is jittery and ambitious here, over-packing the film with strange, deliberate editing and vicious, jarring stop-start pacing and jump-scares. Acting amounts to stagey movement amidst meticulously dressed locations. This is a tightly-wound, aesthetically satisfied film, one in a string of successes for the undeservedly maligned Anderson, one of our most reliable crafts-persons of popcorn bullshit. At his absolute generously-appraised best, Anderson's a bootleg John Carpenter, and that's something to be celebrated.

Not quite the ultra-confident stunt-women she'll become in the film's sequels, Jovovich is pensive and reserved here, until her memory returns at the third act's onset. Anderson's muse and future wife is not a great actor, but she's a great presence, physically confident and endlessly watchable. Milla's a believable action star who single-handedly lends every film in the Resident Evil franchise at least some minimal credibility.

Resident Evil is about ten minutes too long and wears itself threadbare by the end. The zombies feel like necessarily-deployed units within meticulously planned, isolated action sequences, rather than lurking, threatening, ever-present Romero flesh-eaters. That said, it's unfair to critique a sci-fi action film for not being horror. Throughout the series, action engineering tends to work where straight horror fails, as proven by Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

I'm going to re-watch/watch all five of these things. I'm a bit concerned about the series' exponential mall-goth pandering, but I can handle it. On to Apocalypse!

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