The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Resident Evil: Afterlife was for the “In Theatres” section of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
By the fourth film in a franchise, diminished returns are to be expected. When those returns are diminished from a series as creatively bankrupt as the Resident Evil films, the results can be damn near unwatchable. With the bar of expectations lowered that far, it shouldn’t have been difficult to clear it and put out a watchable, if derivative film. But writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t even able to do that. He takes a good running start, leaps and crashes headfirst into that bar of lowered expectations, meeting it, but failing to clear it.
I cannot even bring myself to provide a setup for the action in Resident Evil: Afterlife because, quite frankly, I don’t want to bore you dear readers in the same way that the plot bored me. It’s an accurate enough description to say that the film follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she continues her efforts to destroy the evil Umbrella Corporation and find any survivors of the undead apocalypse that all but wiped out mankind. As is usual with this series, she finds a group of survivors, they are given the sketchiest of personality traits, and then they are summarily killed off one by one as zombies and all manner of homicidal mutants come charging to the dinner table.
Believe it or not, I had just the smallest amount of goodwill toward the series coming into this entry. The Resident Evil films have never been original, or even good, but the second and third films had a loopy charm as the absurd plot twists kept coming and the over-the-top gore was splashed across the screen. They were the movie equivalent of listening to the pulp fantasy stories of a rambling six-year-old with a macabre imagination. The twists rarely made sense, but at least they weren’t boring. This time around, the twists keep coming, but the child telling the story seems bored with the tale. The series has always cannibalized other, better horror, sci-fi, and action films, but this time around, Anderson (who has written every film in the series and directed the first film) is just recycling bits and pieces from the previous three movies.
Even worse than the lazy plotting, tone-deaf dialogue, and murky 3D image is the lack of imagination that is put into filming the mayhem. Anderson stages the action sequences with an over-reliance on slow motion and “bullet time” effects. This quickly becomes repetitive, not just because this technology was overused within two years of the release of The Matrix, but because seemingly half the movie is shot in this manner. Combining this redundancy in style with the more artificial-looking than usual CGI, the action scenes — which are really the only selling points these movies have — become as laborious to sit through as the nearly endless exposition of the first act.
It feels like the time has come to pull the plug on this series, but I doubt that will happen. The films are too profitable to ignore and this entry ends with the usual cliffhanger, implying another chapter in the series is just around the corner. Maybe it will not be as anemic as this film, but I doubt it. The law of diminishing returns has kicked in on the Resident Evil series. If movie franchise history has taught us anything, that is a chain reaction that cannot be reversed.
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