Resident Evil review: A confusing, shonky adaptation of the zombie video game we didn’t need
In 1996, when media coverage was focused on the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, a phenomenon was spreading around the world, much like a virus. Osaka-based video game developer Capcom just released resident Evil, a shoot-’em-up in which players had fun blowing the brains out of the brain-eating undead. Nearly three decades later, and the masterminds (OK, I’ll stop now) at Netflix have brought the franchise back from the dead for an eight-episode run, its first live-action small-screen iteration after a cinematic universe. of seven films which despite an overall critical panning, was never killed off.
At the heart of this new version of resident Evil (the character through whose eyes the story would unfold, if this were a first-person video game) is Jade, played by charlie’s angels“Ella Balinska. She’s a tough, athletic science and action heroine, in the mold of resident Evil heroines before her. The twist here is that her father is Albert Wesker (the games’ big bad) played with typically sonic authority by Threadis Lance Reddick. Two timelines unfold: the “present” day, when Jade, a research scientist, watches for zombies on the streets of London (“Come on, show me something,” she whispers to a rabbit she places in front of the horde), and 2022, when she was a child living with her father and sister in New Raccoon City. This thread, it appears soon, chronicles the genesis of the virus that will imminently reduce humanity to a mass of drooling flesh-eaters.
The backstory quickly becomes a cautionary tale about corporate greed and the exploitation of the welfare fad (after Breakup it seems like everyone wants a slice of dystopian work culture), while in 2036, Jade finds herself on the run, pursued by both the undead (“The T-virus doesn’t kill people, it rewires their brain”, observes Jade “All they want is to eat and spread the virus”) and the shadowy Umbrella Corporation, her father’s employer. The zombies themselves – and let’s face it, a resident Evil the adaptation is only as good as its ravenous swarm – looks like a flash mob of A-level drama students, until they start running, at which point the frenetic action sequences are lit with more parsimony than a medieval boudoir.
Perhaps the creators of this show felt it was enough to escape the video game aesthetic. And for some, it will: There’s plenty to entice fans of the flagship franchise in Wesker’s origin story and head-to-toe violence. But for those unfamiliar with the legendary video game series, it will look like little more than a confusing and somewhat sticky zombie series grappling with the baggage of a pre-existing lore. The video games were a monster hit, but there’s not enough meat on the bones of this revamp for anyone but the hardcore finalists.
The set is shonky. The writing, by necessity, is largely explanatory and clichéd (“Scientists said the world would end in 2036,” Jade’s opening monologue announces. “But they were wrong: the world ended 2036 ago. a long time”), although they also find room for some strange asides, courtesy, mainly, of Paola Núñez’s very diabolical Evelyn Marcus. She says things like “Who hasn’t popped a Xany and gone Louboutin hunting?”, before chopping off a rat’s head with a pair of scissors, in case you had any doubts she was deceived. The visuals, meanwhile, range from a black mirror-lite techscape to an abandoned world built on cheap sets and half-baked CGI. The production design invites comparisons with both 28 days later and children of men; comparisons that seem increasingly unflattering as the series returns to its relentless gameplay origins.