When there’s no more room on basic cable the zombie series will roam the streaming services.
Netflix’s new Resident Evil series seems a million miles away from the series of games it shares a name with and only a fleeting similarity with the Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil franchise. To be fair, it would be difficult to boil down twelve video games into a comprehensive series everyone could enjoy. A series or movie based on a video game has to do more than just satisfy its core audience of video game enthusiasts. First and foremost, it has to be good. In terms of quality, Anderson’s franchise was hit or miss but it managed to include some elements of the video game series. There’s a fine line between a series based on video games and a series trying to cater only to fans of the video games.
The new Resident Evil straddles the line better than Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise and last year’s Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. By saying Resident Evil straddles the line between catering to the video game crowd and the movie crowd doesn’t mean that the series gets a pass. The video game crowd looking for a live action version of their favorite zombie video game will be disappointed. Fans of the zombie fare will be just as disappointed in the overall lack of zombies. Viewers looking for quality storytelling will be equally disappointed as the first two groups. There is enough in the series to make any fan equal parts disappointed and satisfied.
The series is split between two timelines, the past and the present. The past is where we first meet Jade Wesker, her sister Billie, and their father Albert (Lance Reddick). It sets up the action that will unfold in future events. It’s the strongest of the two storylines and the more interesting story than what will occur in the present storyline. Neither storyline is strong on its own and neither storyline is interesting enough on its own.
The series lives and dies, pardon the pun, on the quality of acting. If writers write what they know then I feel sorry for their parents. The teen versions of the Jade and Billie characters are perhaps some of the worst teenagers imaginable. The only dialog in these characters bag of words is “fuck you” or some other vulgarity aimed at their father. By the fourth episode the “tough as nails” teenager act gets old. You want these characters to do something more than just act like spoiled brats. If the writers intended for the characters to be spoiled brats they succeeded.
The series attempts to justify their actions by setting Albert up as a villain. It’s not enough to say Jade and Billie were acting like spoiled brats because their father was an evil mad scientist. They started acting like brats well before the two girls knew anything about T-Viruses, clones, or the true nature of the Umbrella Corporation. Their attempt at an emotional breakdown when Albert sacrifices himself isn’t enough to save these characters from being one dimensional.
To add insult to injury Jade and Billie are also in part responsible for releasing the T-virus into the world. To stick it to daddy, and because Bille’s a vegan, the duo decide to break into the Umbrella labs. What being a vegan has to do with breaking into a secret facility isn’t really explained nor does it have to be explained. When all is said and done most of what happens in Resident Evil is nonsensical as breaking into a secret lab because you’re a vegan. It’s here we see the zombie Doberman Pinschers first made famous in the video game.
As already mentioned, the sisters come off as bratty, spoiled, one dimensional characters. Evelyn Marcus, head of the Umbrella Corporation, is played up as the stereotypical company CEO who is interested in profit over ethics. It’s almost comically except we’re meant to take Paola Nuñez’s performance seriously as her her decision to market the drug Joy over Albert’s objections will ultimately lead to world wide zombie holocaust. This is not a nuanced performance. Bad characters in Resident Evil are bad and the good characters are good. Does the CO of a company who’s dumping toxic chemicals in a river act like archetype villains? No, they act like normal people who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. Such is not the case in Resident Evil.
It becomes more apparent how much of the heavy lifting Reddick is doing when he’s acting opposite the other actors. They’re hamming it up while Reddick is trying to play serious in situations the series is trying to make serious. Reddick also pulls double and triple duty playing clones of Albert. Reddick is hands down the single best thing about Resident Evil.
In the present we meet the older Jade Wesker, still carrying on with the “bad ass” attitude, in a London straight out of 28 Days Later. Here we are supposed to believe that Jade has become a scientist of some note but for who is not revealed until later. Shortly after a fight with zombies and a seriously ticked off caterpillar Jade is on the run from the Umbrella Corporation who is hunting her down for as yet unknown reasons. We’re still not sure why Umbrella is after she’s finally captured and reunited with the now evil Billie. Surely more will be revealed in the second season. Maybe.
For a couple of episodes Resident Evil becomes Neil Marhsall’s Doomsday. The world at large seems okay, cellphones and the Internet still work, but inside certain areas zombies, monster, and crazed survivors run wild. Jade, on the run with what could possibly be a cure for the virus, fights all three while being hounded by Richard Baxter, an Umbrella goon. Most of the scenes would have been excellent television if most of the scenes could actually be seen.
In the past few years it has become popular amongst certain directors and cinematographers to light a scene with as little light as possible. In the horror world it’s an attempt to make a scene scarier for the audience. Except it’s not really scary when you can’t see what’s on the screen. This is what happens in the scenes where Jade is running from Baxter. Would it have been more interesting to see the monsters coming for Jade? Yes, it would have been more interesting. Instead we’re left wondering what she’s running from or what she is running towards. Some scenes we can briefly see monsters climbing up walls and zombies swarming camps lit momentarily by flares. Flare lighting has also been used in a lot of horror movies to the point where it is no longer original and no longer makes things seem scarier for the audience.
When Jade finally reaches her destination it’s an unassuming research boat with all the creature comforts of a post-apocalyptic home. The reunion between Jade and her husband Arjun has as much chemistry as two people who just met before filming the series can have, which is to say none at all. However, Ella Balinska shows more emotion when she is acting opposite her on screen daughter Bea. Even in these moments all she can manage to must are large crocodile tears for the audience to see.
This wouldn’t be a Resident Evil series if the evil Umbrella corporation gave up the fight simply because Jade makes it home safe and sound. Umbrella, true to the nature of these kinds of series, tracks Jade down through a GPS device hidden in the head of a corpse. When Umbrella arrives on the scene Resident Evil becomes a production straight from The Asylum.
Not to be out done by any Asylum production, Resident Evil brings a giant alligator into the mix. Fortunately for us everything occurs during the day. We can see the alligator in all its CGI glory as it destroys CGI drones, helicopters, and smashes Umbrella soldiers into mush. Hands down, the giant alligator is the best thing Resident Evil has to offer its audience. Too bad it’s not around for very long.
Like an Asylum production the villains in Resident Evil go big and a series like Resident Evil has to amp up its villains. It’s almost a requirement for these types of villains to escape being crushed by giant alligators and to over act to the point of ridiculousness. The writing isn’t good enough to portray these characters anything more than what they are. Even comic book villains have more layers that the villains in Resident Evil.
Adeline Rudolph as the older Billie and now de facto head of the Umbrella Corporation plays the role of villian in the grand tradition of cheesy villains. You almost expect her to give it out a maniacal laugh as her evil plan seems to come to fruition or an evil scream when plans seem to fall apart only to give another evil laugh when she abscombs with Jade’s daughter. Her plans for the special Bea will have to wait for season two as the abduction is the season one cliffhanger. It’s not much of a cliffhanger as everything that was going to happen at the end was telegraphed. We can almost guess correctly what will happen in series two. If there’s a season two.
Resident Evil is not the best zombie series ever produced nor is it the worst zombie series ever produced. Resident Evil is just another entry in a market flooded with zombie movies and zombie series. There’s nothing in the series remotely original and there’s nothing to keep the viewer engaged. When another zombie series comes along, Resident Evil will be forgotten.