George A. Romero is credited with the first on-screen portrayal of zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.” The “Resident Evil” game series and the film franchise is known for taking zombies to the next level. Edgar Wright’s take on the genre, “Shaun of the Dead,” exists at the comedic end of the spectrum. While zombies have declined in popularity in the West (largely because of “The Walking Dead”), it has been represented amazingly in the East. Some of the examples are, “Train to Busan,” “#Alive,” “Kingdom” (and “Kingdom – Ashin of the North“), “All of Us Are Dead,” “Rampant,” “One Cut of the Dead,” and “The Sadness.” That doesn’t mean that the West has stopped trying to re-cement their place in the genre with HBO’s “The Last of Us” and Netflix’s “Resident Evil.” And although the former isn’t out yet, the latter is, and it is not good.
“Resident Evil,” the Netflix series, is based on the Capcom video game of the same name. It is the second television adaptation and the eighth live-action adaptation of the franchise. The narrative is split into halves and set apart by 14 years: 2022 and 2036. In 2036, we see an adult Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska), traveling through London and various other zombie-infested places in search of a cure. She is being relentlessly pursued by the Umbrella Corporation, the organization which is considered to be the reason for the apocalypse, with one Richard Baxter (Turlough Convery) leading the attack, initially. In 2022, we see young Jade (Tamara Smart) and her “twin” sister Billie (Siena Agudong) move into New Raccoon City with their father, Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick). And while the girls settle into this new life, Albert commences his work at Umbrella, which involves the making of a drug called Joy, under the watchful eye of Evelyn Marcus (Paola Núñez).
We’ll start with the good stuff, and then we’ll suddenly jump into all the bad elements (because gradually easing into them isn’t an option). The scale and scope of “Resident Evil” is palpable. You can really feel how expansive the zombie apocalypse is as the characters are made to move from one place to another. The production design team has done a good job of making every location seem unique. The variety of creatures and the detailed way in which they’ve been realized are worthy of applause. Although it is easy to take the make-up, special effects, and costume design used for regular zombies for granted, you shouldn’t. Instead, you should appreciate how consistently the aforementioned departments have aced it across various films and shows. The VFX in the show is impeccable. Everything from the zombie dogs to the skin-less monsters that can pierce one’s head with their tongue to the gargantuan animals, they all look top-notch.
Now, we get to the bad stuff. Talking about the zombies, the plot-armor around Jade is thick. At one point, she is given something that is a very literal form of plot-armor, making her impervious to zombie attacks. But even before that, all these blood-thirsty and brain-dead creatures, who are otherwise capable of killing anyone within seconds, miraculously start to dilly-dally around whenever Jade’s around. It’s as if they’ve read the script, and they know she’s the main character. So, they are taken over by the urge to showboat long enough for Jade to either kill them or run away. Yes, it’s obvious why that’s the case: you don’t want your lead to die in the first 20 minutes. Then why bring her so close to the zombies? Or why show her to be so unathletic and lucky instead of making her crafty or athletic? Showing her barely making it out alive once or twice is fine. Multiple times? It simply diminishes the tension.
That brings us to the overall mystery and suspense of “Resident Evil.” It hinges on the age-old tropes of “who caused the zombie apocalypse” and “what is the cure for the zombie apocalypse.” And, look, if that is what is in the game (which I haven’t played because gaming is expensive), then points for accuracy. But, it just doesn’t hit the same way it used to before because “The Walking Dead” has sucked the life out of that trope. If you browse through the modern takes on the genre, you’ll see that the stories have moved on to grounded human interactions, feelings of loss, and regret, and they draw parallels with various real-life political and social issues. Writers Garett Pereda, Shane Tortolani, Mary Leah Sutton, Lindsey Villarreal, Kerry Williamson, Andrew Dabb, and Tara Knight think that the best way to do that is with corny dialogues, heaps of exposition, predictable plot twists, and name-dropping Facebook, Torrent, Elon Musk, etc.
Finally, the direction and the acting. People demean Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies (which he deserves), and the ones by Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy, but they knew what they were making: shlock. And they made it with so much earnestness, despite being absolutely devoid of craft, that it landed in the “so good that it’s bad” category, thereby making them so rewatchable. This show, developed by Andrew Dabb, clearly has all the backing it needs to be solid. Yet, it is so devoid of flair. There is substance; there is style. But none of them stay on the screen long enough or hit the screen hard enough to make their mark. Every camera choice, story beat, human-zombie interaction, and plot twist feels so flaky and, for lack of a better word, safe. This obviously makes its way into the acting department as everyone looks so aimless and woefully miscast. Without mentioning anyone (because I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault), no one actor is good in this series.
In conclusion, the only reason to watch “Resident Evil” is if you want to fall asleep. This is a joke and not meant to hurt people who suffer from sleeplessness. But, yes, if you want to put something on that will lull you into a deep slumber, this is it. There’s something about the overall dull and unengaging vibe of the show that just does the trick. The show’s only redeeming quality lies in the production design, costume design, hair and make-up, special effects, and visual effects departments. And if you are looking for some good zombie action, in addition to the ones mentioned in the introductory paragraph, here are some suggestions: “[Rec],” “The Cured,” “Dawn of the Dead” (the one by George A. Romero and Zack Snyder), “The Girl with All the Gifts,” “Overlord,” “World War Z,” “Blood Quantum,” “Go Goa Gone,” and “The Dead Don’t Die.”
“Resident Evil” is a 2022 Drama Thriller series streaming on Netflix.