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Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The Awesome Action-Horror Appeal of Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’ Movies

It was the year 2021, and as a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, I was struck in awe upon watching the trailer for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. I leaped into the living room, shouting at my spouse and cat, “Look at this marvel of cinema!” I took to the streets, dancing and expressing my joy for what was surely going to be a fun adaptation of one of my most beloved video game properties. And then I watched the movie.

Written and directed by Johannes Roberts, the first 30-ish minutes of Welcome to Raccoon City sold me. I’m not going to get into anything super spoiler heavy, but the film weaves together narrative elements from both the first and second Resident Evil games. Tonally, the setup feels very much like George A. Romero’s The Crazies – which I was totally in for and found to be a great approach.

What I felt hurt the film was everything that played out after that setup. Once the ball gets rolling on the action, the film displays issues in pacing and focus; combining familiar story beats of the first two games is a cool idea, but the film loses track in providing an entertaining, fleshed out narrative. By the time the credits rolled I was bummed out; what started as an intriguing survival horror adaptation ended up being a mix bag of somewhat thrilling suspense. That said, if there was one great personal positive I got in watching Welcome to Raccoon City, it was the reminder of how much I love the Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich.

Frankly, while Resident Evil 4 was the first title I ever played and it forever sold me on the games – it was that of Anderson’s 2002 Resident Evil movie that first captured my attention. To be clear, I had always had an appreciation for Resident Evil; ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to get my hands on the games (I just never had the means to purchase any of them). But renting a movie was something I could do, and when I got a hold of that 2002 flick, I was thrilled with what I saw.

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It has been almost 20 years since the first film’s release and the fondness I’ve developed for these movies remains strong. Are most of them a mess? Absolutely. But I feel like their brand of messiness is in line with the games themselves; the chaotic, sci-fi absurdity of the movies reflects the over-the-top action-horror of the Resident Evil games.

While I tend to associate the initial run of Resident Evil movies with Anderson, it’s important I note that he did not direct the second and third films of this initial film series (he did write the screenplays for both though). That said, he did write and direct every other entry. While Resident Evil: Apocalypse is my favorite of them all (I can hear one particular member of the Bloody Disgusting team going, “Are you kidding me?!” right now) – Anderson’s approach to filmmaking is an essential component as to why I love these movies.

A criticism I could understand other viewers having regarding these films is the level of cheese found throughout them – but hasn’t Resident Evil always had that edge to it? Granted, there’s a good deal of heavy subject matter to be found, but there is also a level of goofiness. Hell, a lot of the plots are that of off-the-wall sci-fi adventure thrills. What aids in making Resident Evil games scary is how the gameplay immerses players in suspenseful situations against horrific monsters. With that in mind, I don’t think Anderson created great works of horror, but good action-horror flicks.

Milla Jovovich stars in Screen Gems' RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER.

Personally, Anderson is the only name that comes to mind immediately when I think about video game adaptations in movies. If you’ve read some of my past work, then you know I am a hardcore fan of video game adaptions; even the most awful of adaptations bring me a lot of happiness given my love for the medium of games and the stories I have come to enjoy. In my opinion, Anderson truly knows how to adapt these works. Arguing the cinematic quality of his films is a whole other conversation, but when it comes to faithful interpretation and expansion of the source material, Anderson delivers. Specifically, I look to 1995’s Mortal Kombat for example (which I’ve written about before). Anderson presents audiences with a very goofy take on the acclaimed fighting game – but I ask, what is missing from this film? You got the fan service. Check. You have decent enough fighting that most people can get behind for a good chuckle or rush. Check. And, you have a serviceable enough story to help push the plot towards the next fight scene.

The struggle with many game adaptations is the focus on gimmicks; the over emphasis of video game Easter eggs tends to overshadow that of the characters and story, making for shallow viewing experiences. What Anderson does though is provide those eggs, while also understanding how action films should play out. Hell, I wasn’t too crazy for his take on Monster Hunter – but I still had a good time with it as a fun action movie.

Anderson’s Resident Evil movies follow this as well, and I argue that they are faithful adaptations and interpretations of the games – in the sense of how they expand upon the material. He may be taking bits and pieces of narrative found within the games, but Anderson is telling his own original story – his own Resident Evil fanfic. You’re going to find Tyrant, Jill Valentine, Nemesis, Chris Redfield, and a plethora of other awesome characters from the games, but they are not always going to mirror what it is you experienced in those games.

I have always felt that Anderson’s Resident Evil movies are fine companion pieces within the franchise; that if you can accept the lack of survival horror tension and get along with wild action and cool looking monsters, you’re going to find enough of an experience to cater towards your Resident Evil itch. There may be some cheese to the performances, but these movies deliver kick ass thrills and bad ass monsters. There are enough Easter eggs within these movies that take care of my Resident Evil needs; I know I’m not getting something that 100% reflects the stories of the games I adore, but I know I am experiencing movies that care about their source material and want to pay homage to it.

I really, really wanted to love Welcome to Raccoon City. What bothers me the most about it is that I saw such a huge potential in its setup that leaned into a tone Anderson did not cater too in his movies. I was ready for a more survival horror-like experience on screen, but alas, I didn’t find myself invested after the action and narrative began clashing together. I’m still glad I got to see it though and I applaud Roberts on his work, it’s just that – when it comes to the Resident Evil movies I love to see – I’ll always go for Anderson’s take on action-horror.

Do you enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies? Were you a fan of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City? The new movie is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, and Digital.

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The post The Awesome Action-Horror Appeal of Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’ Movies appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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