Netflix’s rendition of the franchise is a muddled mess
Live-action cinema hasn’t been kind to the venerable video-game franchise Resident Evil.
Filmmakers have adapted the survival horror series loosely seven times, resulting in one solid B-picture (the first) and a half-dozen ludicrously overblown duds. It would seem that the IP’s string is played out — on the big screen, anyway. But since Netflix has been throwing money at everything with a pulse, someone decided to give Resident Evil a shot at long-form television.
The result is, fittingly, a curious, ugly beast. Part generic post-apocalyptic zombie grindfest, part pre-apocalyptic young adult drama, this year’s Resident Evil feels unhealthily padded with manufactured conflicts on one of its two timelines. Both timelines fall short of the pulse-pounding intensity that defines the video games.
Worse, the bifurcated structure seems like padding of its own, with no thematic connections to bind the flashbacks to the apocalypse.
The sleek, dystopian panopticon that is New Raccoon City is the best feature of the pre-apocalyptic sections. It’s a shiny nightmare of a master-planned community in South Africa, a company town where the company is the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, a biotech company responsible for a wee bit too much tinkering with forces beyond their control.
When lead scientist Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick, always reliable, here mostly wasted) moves his two children into New Raccoon City, the irrepressible scamps promptly embark on teen-activist corporate espionage shenanigans that are largely responsible for the end of the world, because kids are the worst. They find time to have minor social-circle outcast drama as well, which is mostly an exercise in viewer thumb-twiddling since we know much bigger things are afoot.
A few bright spots
Meanwhile, in the future, Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) is now a scientist in her own right. She searches zombie-infested London for some way of mitigating the plague, running afoul of giant zombified caterpillars and other action set-pieces. It’s in those all-too-brief action sequences that you feel like what you’re watching is specifically Resident Evil. They’re shot with a sense of peril and an appropriate scale, whether the threat is one big zombie or a horde of little zombies.
The future also features psychopathic Umbrella enforcer Richard Baxter (Turlough Coventry), whose campy, over-the-top performance is very much in the spirit of the games and for a few moments, makes the whole project make sense.
Alas, those moments pass. And after eight hours of Resident Evil, it’s still not entirely clear who the series is actually for. Gaming fans will decry the myriad deviations from series canon, despite a few Easter eggs littered here and there. The series is too gory for some of the YA crowd and too confusing for adults not already invested.
There may yet be a great Resident Evil project out there. If you want it to happen, you should probably pray for an end of this world sooner than later.