Tag Archives: Survival horror

“Resident Evil” week – Alice? What’s The Matter?

Milla Jovovich, as Alice the heroine of the “Resident Evil” series

Her name is Alice.  And she remembers everything.

Huzzah! There’s a new “Resident Evil” film – “Retribution” – out in the UK later this week and I, for one, can’t wait to see Milla Jovovich’s one-woman crusade against the rights of undead Americans go global and take the fight overseas (sort of).

To give advanced warning In honour of this imminent release, I’m going to be watching the previous instalments in the series and bringing you up to date with a layperson’s guide to all things  Alice, The Umbrella Corporation and Z-word related.  Expect confusion, rampant Mary Sueism and all kinds of chin-stroking retcon action to carry the day and for your humble blogger to not care a jot – I love these splendid B-movies and will be happy to tell you all about them.

Mashing the undead whilst remaining fabulous, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez.

The initial salvo in the film series opened in spring 2002 and adapted Capcom’s enduringly popular series of survival horror video games – the latest of which, “Resident Evil 6“, comes to consoles in the first week of October –  into a cinematic horror franchise under the direction of British genre film-maker Paul W.S. Anderson (who is definitely not to be confused with serially grumpy “Boogie Nights”/“Magnolia”/“There Will Be Blood” art house fave, Paul Thomas Anderson).

Fans of the games had long campaigned for genuine Horror legend George A. Romero to occupy the director’s chair and were less than delighted by publisher Capcom rejecting Romero’s screenplay out of hand and placing the project in the cheaper, all together schlockier mitts of the “Mortal Kombat”/“Event Horizon” director.  In retrospect, it all worked out for the best, as despite critical reaction which runs the gamut from eye-rolling disdain to snarky dismissal, the film series has proved enduringly popular with audiences, financially successful and spun-off direct-to-video CG movies which are arguably more faithful to the games than the Anderson movies have ever managed to be.

The first film introduces us to a near-future world where the omnipresent Apple Umbrella Corporation quietly exert financial and political dominion in the United States by providing computing, medical technology and health care services to its populace (all the while actually turning a profit by manufacturing biological weapons and engaging in genetic research).  The catastrophic release of a sample of Umbrella’s T-Virus bio-weapon causes their underground, A.I.-controlled facility  The Hive to go into forced lock down and kill every member of staff present in order to contain the outbreak.

Cue the introduction of series heroine, Alice, as played by Milla Jovovich as a combination of bad-ass action heroine and this-close-to-losing-it “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.  When we first encounter Alice, she’s in the buff, has inconveniently misplaced her memory and is attempting to remedy that unfortunate situation when a detail of black-clad special ops dudes smash in through the windows of the plush mansion she’s woken up in.

The cast’s attempts to spam Metacritic with good reviews were doomed to failure…

In no short order she finds out that she’s a security operative for the Umbrella Corporation, living in deep cover above The Hive and that she’s going to be accompanying her rude interruptees back into the underground base in order to get to the bottom of why the A.I. system went all Jason Voorhees on everyone.  It’s not been the best of days for Alice and it soon gets worse when the T-Virus outbreak currently contained within the walls of the Umbrella facility appears to be reanimating the dead and turning them into Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes’ target practice dummies of choice.

If you’re at all familiar with the games, there isn’t a great deal in that summation of the first film’s plot which indicates a relationship with the source material beyond sharing a snappy title – and you’d be right to make that judgement.  The major issue with the film series as a cross-media translation of the games is that the deliberate, tension-building horror of the Capcom series is rejected more or less wholesale and replaced with run-and-gun ass kicking inspired more or less entirely by the cinema of James Cameron – “Resident Evil” is, in essence, “Aliens” with zombies and fashionable, post-“Matrix” slow-mo, wire-fu action.

It’s like going to see “Downton Abbey – The Movie” and finding that your Dame Maggie Smith starring, “Daily Mail” world view-espousing period drama has been unceremoniously reconstituted as a racy, teen sex comedy with a Katy Perry soundtrack.  There’s a disconnect between the two, no?

To his credit, Anderson’s changes don’t fatally unbalance the movie and instead move us from the creeping dread of the games series to an action-orientated tale which finds new and gross ways to build on the zombie mythos and create memorable foes for heroine Alice to beat up on as she heads for the surface.

Alice versus a zombie Dobermann. Normally, I’d be pissed, but it’s a zombie Dobermann, people…

The writer/director’s major contribution to this film – for me – is to give it a look which is glacial, antiseptic and defiantly modern in tone.  He builds on excellent production design by Richard Bridgland, who gives us a world which is all brushed metal surfaces, reflective glass, omnipresent CCTV and reality obfuscating trans-lights, which speak to the influence of the malign, invisible Umbrella Corporation – their staff work underground, working on amoral science projects which go wrong and consume them, only for their remote masters to figuratively bury them alive and send in similarly disposable teams to recover the flawed bio-weapons for future revision.    It’s not your parent’s monster movie and it’s all the better for it, I feel.

Performances are fine – Jovovich is a spirited and unusually emotional action heroine.  She’s resolutely not the ‘dude in a skirt’ that the film could have settled for, using her waifish frame to her advantage and making the frequent dust-ups with her zombie foes seem more like a life-and-death struggle than the foregone conclusion battles that Alice would subsequently encounter in future entries in the franchise.  Similarly, Michelle Rodriguez is aptly cast as special ops bad ass Rain, her now trademarked ‘tough chick’ persona not yet forged by the likes of “Battle: Los Angeles”, “Avatar” and the “Fast & Furious” series.

“I’ll still be making these films in ten years?  Are you shizzing me?

It’s a rare film series where the male cast members essentially add up to eye candy, but that’s very much the case for Eric Mabius and James Purefoy, who get to look suitably gym-chiselled and hunky whilst having characters who don’t really add up to much.  Of the male cast, it’s only Brit Colin Salmon who makes much of an impression, gruffly barking orders as the squad C.O. before exiting the picture in one of the more memorable horror deaths of the decade.

As you can tell from this review, despite genuinely enjoying this film I can see that it has flaws – show me the movie that doesn’t drop the ball at least once and I’ll show you the opining of an eternal optimist – but those shortcomings are not serious enough to derail either the movie or the series that it inspired.  Anderson may not be an original film-maker but his taste in movies is decidedly similar to mine and I dare say that I would be paying homage to “Aliens”, “Day of the Dead”, “The Matrix”, Shaw Brothers kung-fu cinema and video game user interfaces in roughly the same fashion as he does throughout “Resident Evil”.

Come into this film expecting a visionary genre reinvention along the lines of “Rec”, “Audition” or “Martyrs” and you’ll be disappointed.  Calibrate your expectations for a popcorn horror/action/sci-fi mash-up with a singular, steely blue colour palette and the best Marco Beltrami/Marilyn Manson score ever to explode from your surround sound speakers and you’ll be in (zombie) hog heaven.

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“Resident Evil” – one film series, hundreds of dead(er) zombies, multiple opinions…

Regular readers of this blog will doubtless be aware of – and lamenting quite a bit by now – my inexcusable “Resident Evil” film fandom.

Massive, hugely absurd set-pieces wholly at odds with the original video games? Don’t mind if I do!

Given that it’s nearly September, I must forewarn the thus concerned that I may be posting a fair bit of guff and balderdash concerning the popular Paul W.S. Anderson shepherded film series. as the fifth entry “Retribution” will be in cinemas in the US on September 14 and in the UK a week later.  Expect much discussion of the heretofore hidden, unexplored nuances and deeply coded meanings inherent in the subtext of Mr Anderson’s bitchin’ Zombie smash-em-ups.  Or, like, reviews of the previous movies and junk.

Those of you likely to gag at the numerous ways in which this series of films has messed with the continuity of the games and the universe therein may wish to skip the odd post or two – I’ll try to make them obvious enough for you to be able to do that.

How we started, back in 2002 – when Marilyn Manson did the soundtrack and Michelle Rodriguez’ character popped her clogs for the first time…

Truth be told, the films and games began an inevitable process of divergence before the first movie was released ten years ago – other than the presence of the Umbrella Corporation‘s proverbial moustache-twirling villainy at the decaying heart of each plot twist, there’s been precious little to link the two cross-media properties, save for director/producer Anderson’s propensity to cut-and-paste in elements from the games which particularly tickle his fancy (uber-bad guy Arnold Wesker, Jill Valentine, Lickers and the like).

It’s this going-off-script, cavalier disregard for canon which seems to upset fans of the games so much – the “Resi” flicks would be an otherwise easy-to-ignore sequence of sci-fi/horror mash-ups , were they not performing double duty by offending fans of video games and the long-lived Capcom franchise – why does their pioneering survival horror video game sequence have to bear the unfair burden of being the poster child (in the eyes of critics) for mediocre ‘games-to-films’ adaptations?  And where’s their George A. Romero directed version of the first movie, more to the point?

I strongly suspect that your prospective enjoyment of the series is in inverse proportion to your love of genre fare in general – if you have an uncritical love of things that go ‘Boom!’ and ‘Aarggh!’ in the night, this franchise is almost certainly up your zombie-infested alley.  If you love Bela Tarr, however, the rather more rudimentary pleasures of a Paul Anderson genre flick are almost certainly going to be denied to you.

As an object lesson in seeing how audience and critical reactions diverge on films, take a look at the professional critical response and the general public’s take on “Resident Evil”.  What I take away from those responses, other than that film critics can write and the general public has some way to go in attaining that goal, is that people don’t go to these films for the same reasons.

It’s enough for many viewers to have familiar horror tropes, action set pieces, characterisation and even plotting in place when they see a film like this one – they neither want nor expect an entry in this series to deliver anything more than uncomplicated fun and the odd jump-scare.  Critics, meanwhile, seemingly have to take a jab at video games in the body of their review – perhaps on the basis that they view them as low art and incapable of conveying anything worthwhile to an intelligent viewer or because they are aware that their reviews are being read by an ageing audience who hold the same prejudices about the medium and adaptations thereof as they do.

Milla Jovovich’s Reddit “AMA” appearance didn’t end well…

Those without knowledge of a subject matter presuming to publicly critique something in the full knowledge that they won’t have to answer criticism about it – what a marvellously tenable position from which to offer an informed opinion to an audience who will presumably take you seriously.

Expect more musings on the undead, Alice’s questionable Zombie-slaying attire, the confusing web of insanity which is the ongoing series’ plotline and the “Resident” iterations thus far in the weeks to come…

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“Silent Hill: Revelation” – misty gloom + dead nurses x pyramid heads = fun times!

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Remember Christophe Gans‘ adaptation of Konami’s survival horror game, Silent Hill“?  It was – by crikey! – a half-decent video game movie which captured much of the atmosphere of the series and was mostly successful as a movie.

In news that will surprise nobody, this Halloween sees a sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation“, which promises more murderous faceless nurses, pyramid head psychos, omnipresent urban decay and solid character actors (Alice Krige, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates) doing their best ‘creepy grown-up’ acting whilst rounding on Aussie actress Adelaide Clemens (who’s the spitting image of Michelle Williams).

Yep, that Michelle Williams cloning process is coming along nicely…

The movie’s out on October 26th in the US and in perfect time for Halloween in the UK.  I’m going to be seeing this at some point, as British director Michael J Bassett has previously brought us the very fine likes of “Deathwatch” and “Solomon Kane”, fun genre pictures which are twenty times more enjoyable than the last few Michael Bay movies.  Mind you, so is an ingrowing toenail, so that’s not exactly a recommendation.

Still, it all looks creepy, desperately wrong and is in the new-fangled three dimensions that all the kids are enjoying, so they have my five pounds for a matinée screening.

I’m such a cheap date…

Oh, this isn’t going to end well…

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Appropriate Attired Adventurers Assemble!

Well, this is awesome.

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Fantasy and SF book blog A Dribble of Ink turned me onto this neat Tumblr – Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour and I’m rather taken with it.  It collates examples of fantasy and SF artwork depicting female characters garbed in attire which is actually practical and appropriate to the ass kickery which they are engaged in.

I’ve blogged about this before in relation to my beloved “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” movie series – and I guess that there’s an tie-in with the current blockbuster “Avengers” movie – in which your strong, competent heroines are togged out in PVC/Leather catsuits or some derivation thereof.  I’ve found it a bit curious, to be honest, with all kinds of mixed messages suggesting themselves:  I love the (mostly) empowered heroines, I’m just not crazy about the ass-hugging camera angles frequently employed to depict them.

It’s that cross-over point between agency and objectification – which I’m sure as hell not smart enough to figure out by myself (there may be that undeniable masculine perspective which is also standing in the way of better understanding).  That said, I feel that the issue goes something like this – the phenomenon of ‘male gaze‘ is the problem in most depictions of otherwise strong female characters in genre entertainment.

Let’s say that two directors on a film both shoot variations on the same scene with a female warrior in an action scene.  The details of the scene are identical, but for the way that the female character is shot – one director frames the female character neutrally, allowing her to proceed through the sequence without the camera lingering on her body or focussing on anatomy in any particular way.  The other guy is Michael Bay.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely - also pictured, Michael Bay's explosive super-ID...

You can begin to see the problem if you took in a screening of the thirdTransformers film – in which Bay’s camera leered so constantly after star Rosie Huntington-Whitely‘s rear end that it was possible to conclude that the director missed his calling in life and might have sought more appropriate employment as a proctologist.

It’s possible to argue that Hollywood’s M.O. is to market around visuals and aesthetics, so can’t do anything but focus on eye candy and create narratives in which the visual shorthand is paramount (no pun intended), but there’s got to be a point in superhero narratives, fantasy fiction and sci-fi stories where common sense prevails and the heroines aren’t attired in costumes which make no fricking sense.

Jim C Hines - making my point about the 'male gaze' in hilarious fashion.

If Hollywood starts insisting that Jason Statham wear armour-plated Speedos as he kicks in henchmen’s teeth and that action heroes have to be dressed in as vulnerable a fashion as possible, I suppose that we might be said to have reached some kind of parity in the depiction of  the genders when every hot dude is being as exploited as much as every beautiful gal.  Over in the realm of fiction, writers have been engaging with the silly archetypes and imagery being used to market their novels – witness io9’s posts on fantasy writer Jim C. Hines, who has been writing a series of blog posts deconstructing some of the tactics used to market books to readers in a charming and self-effacing way.

Sensible armour, worn by a sensible young woman. Almost makes up for Bella in "Twilight" being such a drip, doesn't it?

There is hope, of course – forthcoming summer fantasy blockbuster “Snow White & The Huntsman” goes some way towards depicting a capable heroine who doesn’t have to wear a chain mail bikini to wield a sword and punch undead beasties in the ‘nards, the “Alien” prequel which isn’t, Ridley Scott‘s “Prometheus”, seems to wait a decent amount of time before finding a narrative reason for female lead Noomi Rapace to show up in her pants and even the catsuited heroine of “The Avengers”, Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, might be wearing a catsuit but isn’t striking cheesecake poses, breaking a heel and waiting for her male compadre to save her.

Do these archetypes exist because we’ve established a taste for them as an audience or because we’ve been told that this depiction of heroes and heroines is what we want?

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