For all the bad things you can throw at the Resident Evil live-action film series, and there is a hell of a lot, you simply cannot deny it was very good at amassing vast oceans of cash. Probably enough to fund at least six of Umbrella’s idiotically convoluted ideas that are doomed to fail. It’s that alone that means that despite the last film in the series being titled ‘The Final Chapter’, it’s far from it.
There’s been talk of a TV show first and foremost, but it seems just as likely the iconic video game survival horror will return to the big screen sans Mr. and Mrs. Anderson-Jovovich. Obviously, the money it can make is going to rule the decision-making process, but there is a genuine chance to restart the movie universe with a bit more of what actually features in the games.
The games have plenty of juicy horror moments, monster encounters, and mysteries to solve. Many of them could be successfully adapted for film, after all, they borrow plenty from horror and sci-fi movies as it is. The first game alone is an exquisite template for a fun, tense monster-ridden romp on the silver screen.
Any new Resident Evil film doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of horror, but it can at least be more respectful of the series that birthed it.
Here, we’ll discuss which parts of the series origin could breathe fresh life into the action-orientated movie husk that should have been a horror.
After the globe-hopping expanse that made most of the Resi film franchise, it’d be a good time to scale back.
When Milla Jovovich’s Alice first awoke in a Mansion back in 2002, it all looked so promising. The original Resident Evil video game features a mysterious mansion in the woods, and it spun out an intriguing mystery that took in ridiculously complex puzzles, the living dead, zombie dogs, Killer frogmen, and an elaborate conspiracy that would span many years, sequels, and spinoffs. It looked like we’d get something that was close to the source. That was until the Red Queen appears and it becomes something else entirely. It did at least keep the events contained within a relatively small area with hidden depths, just a little too literally.
Taking that initial promise and running with it would be a sound strategy for rebirthing the film version of the franchise. The rather Gothic Spencer Mansion (even just a facsimile of it) from the 1996 original game, with all its hidden horrors and dark mysteries, would be a somewhat grounded way to restart the movie universe. It’d be a great way to honor the series’ roots not only in video games, but also in film, as the game’s own genesis was found in the criminally underseen Japanese haunted house flick Sweet Home (AKA Sûîto Homu).
An alternate route is via the game series’ own recent semi-reboot, Resident Evil 7. Whereas Resident Evil first began as a haunted house movie full of biological weapons, Resident Evil 7 is closer to the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with…wait for it…biological weapons. It mirrors the original’s scaled-back approach, mainly focused in the creaking, decrepit Baker homestead, before heading to a secondary location towards the end.
It’s an interesting location, but we’ll take the ‘Spencer Mansion Event’ blueprint as a basis for this article, even if the idea of seeing an actress take a crack at being Marguerite Baker is an entirely intriguing prospect.
The tone employed by the films was, on the surface, similar to the games, yet in reality, it was way off. Both are horror-based with an action bent, and both delve into the ridiculous. Resident Evil, the game series, had this balanced out with goofy, low-fi charm and moments of genuine terror and panic. Resident Evil, the movie series, often merely tipped its hat to actual horror, and played things rather too straight, and far too action heavy. It produced a slicker-looking package, sure, but not one you could call coherent. By the time Alice’s Less Than Excellent Adventures really got going, they had more in common with Resident Evil 6, a game that is itself a rambling incoherent mess of nonsense.
Going with a Spencer Mansion setting, correcting the tone to something closer to what fans loved about the series should be fairly simple. Resident Evil’s location is a traditional creepy homestead with theatrical villains and disgusting monsters. A mean streak is definitely a part of its appeal, but it should be countered with an embrace of the absurdity found within it. Horror has plenty of history in making the absurd and the nasty come together as a delightfully filthy hole.
One thing the films consistently got wrong was the survival aspect of the survival horror series. Reminders about how utterly helpless the S.T.A.R.S crew are, even though they are highly trained, would be more than welcome after the movies had Alice go on killing sprees without breaking a sweat.
Perhaps the cruelest slight the films offered was to the original characters. Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield and the gang pretty much cowered in the shadow of Super Alice: Queen of Clones, and were poorly-realized representations of these characters. That’s saying something given they weren’t exactly three-dimensional to begin with. Only the nefarious Albert Wesker came close to his digital counterpart.
A Spencer Mansion setting gives the likes of Wesker, Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Gods be praised, Barry Burton, a shot at living up to the status of their videogame counterparts.
Fitting all of the events of the first Resident Evil game into a single movie is both impossible and unnecessary. A good pace can be kept by distilling the whole thing down to what matters most.
The intro is important. It features The elite S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team in the forests on the outskirts of Raccoon City, searching for Bravo Team. Their search is cut short when they are attacked by a pack of vicious, disfigured dogs, and they seek shelter in the isolated, seemingly abandoned, Spencer Mansion.
This leads to groups splitting up to search the place, uncovering an escalating series of nasty things. Oh and a lot of ridiculously contrived puzzles. A lot of that is an easy pick for culling from any live action adaptation, though popping the odd one in for a grisly death scene would obviously be worth having.
The key components to frame the whole shebang are iconic moments in not only survival horror history, but video game history. That first zombie reveal. Yawn the snake’s introduction. Barry’s betrayal. The Hunters. The whole finale. And most importantly of all, Barry’s infamous ‘Jill Sandwich’ line. All that is needed.
Fitting in some of the other, many extra, bits added in the years since 1996 is a something of a possibility. Crimson Head zombies from the remake would spice up the parade of shuffling undead, and the whole Lisa Trevor side-story is a wonderfully tragic one, though it’d be tough to truly get that across during the runtime of a 90-120 minute film with other stories already in play. What matters is that a film can hit the rest of those beats using the escalation of threats and revelations found within the game. Gory, tense, and a little silly.
Yes, zombies are overplayed, but it would feel entirely odd not to include the classic shamblers here. Plus, they are merely the appetizer for the more unspeakable monstrosities on offer.
The dogs, the snake, the crows, the spider, the plant, Chimera, Lisa Trevor, Crimson Heads, and of course, the Tyrant. Oh and the possibility of a zombified shark? While not all of it needs to be there, it would make for a thoroughly entertaining Monster Variety Pack of a movie to at least offer up a healthy selection of them.
Whichever beastly things are picked, they need to have menace to them. There needs to be a struggle to every encounter, a sense of the unknown to the ability and deadliness of the original monsters. There’s not much Evil to be found if the bio-weapon gets its butt kicked by a slightly powerful human. A fact that began to be more apparent in the likes of Resident Evil 4-6.
However the Resident Evil name is carried on, be it at the movies, or a TV show, it would do well to honor its source far better this time around. Otherwise, they may as well go back to the Alice well once more.