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Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson) 2002
Probably the last thing I expected when I watched Paul “not Thomas” Anderson’s haunted house effects extravaganza Resident Evil was an abundance of actual ideas, but surely enough, there are quite a few kicking around in it. Though it’s definitely a B-movie with a bigger than average budget, one can see sparks of ambition throughout that invigorate the proceedings. To complain about its lack of character development or shoddy storyline seem utterly beside the point, since Anderson achieves remarkable fidelity to his source material (the film is based on a popular videogame) by adopting the its aesthetic part and parcel. Whenever people complain about poor CGI effects in a film, they usually cite a shiny, new look that makes any computer generated creations look out of place in the frame. Videogames, which are rendered entirely in computer graphics, generally share this sterile look, and in Resident Evil, Anderson implements it, turning it into a unique visual scheme. The environments seem to be solely built out of glass, concrete, florescent lights, and metal, and as a result, the movie has a sterile and clinical look that lends itself well to the tone.
Anderson’s camerawork seems to only further underscore this project’s roots, and it’s a weird experience to observe such reverence to a videogame, especially when you consider the seemingly random makeup of past conversions of games to film. The director utilizes digital effects here in the same way that David Fincher did in Fight Club and Panic Room and turns his virtual environment into a space that allows for impossible dolly shots. Sometimes, he uses a long shot, usually from above, that shows protagonist and audience surrogate Milla Jovovich walking across the screen, and the impression it leaves deliberately recalls the exploration sequences of a videogame. The audience will probably be reaching for their control pad during these scenes since the camera angles and shot durations, as well as the placement of scare scenes, have been ripped directly from the Resident Evil game. This feeling that the film more closely resembles an interactive game than a non-interactive film is only compounded because of Jovovich’s terrific non-performance. She plays an amnesiac who uses only the sparsest amount of dialogue, and we’re placed alongside her character, finding out information only as she does. Often, when she speaks to another person, the actor addresses the camera directly, only reinforcing the feel that, somehow, we’re the ones interacting with the film.
For those who are fans of its source material, I imagine Resident Evil will offer the most. For those not intimately familiar with the language of cinema and the language of videogames, though, I doubt it will be able to be viewed as anything but an above average, pleasingly fast-paced horror romp. On those terms, it works well enough, since the thrills pop up frequently, and the dispatching of the cast is as often imaginative as it is gory. The lack of screen time showing unnecessary romantic entanglements and soggy back story helps create a propulsive narrative drive that powers the film. From the dazzling opening sequence on, it hits the ground running, and never really pauses to catch its breath. Everything in the film seems to have been polished to a slick sheen, but for once that abundant style doesn’t detract from the work. Its sanitary stylizations are the point here, because they always hint at the mass produced, conglomerate-sponsored horror that lurks around each corner in the film. While I generally feel that the brainless action movie is mostly outmoded now that the videogame has advanced as it has – after all, why settle for pre-determined thrills when you can have the illusion that you’re personally making an impact? – I think the creative fusion that’s resulted with Resident Evil is exciting nonetheless. It suggests that there may be room for a comfortable melding of two seemingly similar, but ultimately distinct, mediums that are defining much of the 21st century’s popular culture.
* * * 1/2