Film novelizations were once a big part of horror film culture. They provide a chance to expand upon a character by revealing their thoughts and inner workings, which is often difficult to communicate on screen. Unfortunately, novelization seems to be a dying art form. In conjunction with the release of the Resident Evil: Retribution film, Titan Books released the official novelization, written by John Shirley. Shirley has an impressive writing resume under his belt, having penned the screenplay for The Crow, as well as various novel tie-ins such as “Bioshock” and “Constantine”. Let’s get this straight; this is an adaptation of a screenplay for a mediocre action horror film that is very loosely adapted from a series of video games. The chances of it being a solid piece of fiction were slim to begin with. Shirley’s writing offers moments of excitement but for the most part it is uninspired and filled with lackluster imagery. My major concern is that the novel does not seem to have had an editor. The book is riddled with editorial errors from start to finish, thus removing the reader from what should be climactic moments.
The Resident Evil: Retribution film has a ridiculous plot to begin with, and reading it in a novel highlights how absurd it is. Alice wakes up in an underground ex-Soviet base that has been turned into an Umbrella Corporation test facility somewhere in Russia. In order to escape, she has to fight off infected clones, zombies, and mind-controlled humans. Shirley could have grounded the plot and taken out some of the action sequences in order to offer some sort of narrative arc, but instead, he sticks almost religiously to Paul W.S. Anderson’s screenplay. The elements Shirley does add only confuse the plot further. Shirley is clearly not a fan of the franchise, nor is he versed in the Resident Evil mythos, which shows throughout the novel. He uses tawdry tactics in an attempt to offer suspense. One of his favorite techniques is abruptly cutting off sentences, then beginning the next one with “And”. One of the first lessons you learn is school is not to begin a sentence with a conjunction.
The book is an editorial mess. It is chockfull of basic grammatical errors, character names are often misspelled, and there is a lack of continuity. Early on in the novel, Alice opens a drawer from which she pulls out a uniform, a drink, and a pair of boots. Two paragraphs later, Alice is described as walking barefoot because there were not shoes in the drawer. For some reason her footwear is brought up several times throughout the novel, switching between barefoot and booted. Editorial errors are bound to come about in any novel, and they can be forgiven in isolated incidents, but the sheer volume of them here is baffling. Nothing brings a reader out of an action sequence more than misspelled character names.
The biggest blunder comes from the book’s tagline, which is also the final line of the prologue. It reads, “My name is Alice. And this is my story…The story of how I died”. *SPOILER ALERT* she doesn’t actually die. She comes close to dying while fighting off the “Rain” clone, but she doesn’t. Perhaps it is alluding to one of the Alice clones, or the next installment in the franchise, but I doubt it. It’s completely misleading, and it doesn’t make sense as tagline.
I’d be lying if said I wasn’t entertained by this novelization at all. Shirley translates the fight sequences well (despite the lack of editing), and it’s clear where concentrated most of his efforts. There are moments where Alice’s thoughts about Umbrella and the T-Virus are enlightening and work to expand her on-screen persona, but they are far and few between. The majority of inner speech feels dry and surface level.
My favorite part of the novel is the side plot that has nothing to do with Alice’s journey. Shirley incorporates the story of a 15-year-old girl, Dori, a clone who attempts to escape from the Russian Umbrella facilities with friends JudyTech and Tom. The team stumbles upon a zombie-free island where another group of weary survivors has taken refuge. These characters have some depth and unique personalities that allow you to feel for them. Unfortunately, they are introduced in the last 100 pages of the book for no real reason. If Shirley had written this as a short story, it would have worked well as a commentary on the monstrosity of humanity and the horrors of our world. But, instead it’s shoved in the middle of this novelization, never remotely tying into the main plot. It doesn’t help that it takes up the majority of the final third of the novel.
What the film lacks in characterization and plot, it makes up for with stunning action sequences. Unfortunately the novel cannot rely on special effects and Milla Jovovich’s good looks for a saving grace. Die-hard fans of the Resident Evil film franchise might find elements of Shirley’s novelization intriguing. However, this book was clearly rushed into production and it suffers greatly from such. Any potential is lost in the lack of effort to bring the characters to life in prose form.
Note: If you really want to read a Resident Evil novel, pick up the books by S.D. Perry, which were re-printed by Titan Books at the same time as the “Resident Evil: Retribution” Novelization. Perry’s work is stellar, and well worth a read.