I’m on a hunt for the scariest movies of all time! I’ll be looking at films of any era, from any country, and then reviewing them based solely on how terrifying they are.
If you have a suggestion for a horror movie, please let me know on Twitter.
Please be advised, spoilers may lie ahead!!
Resident Evil (2002)
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez
Horror aficionados itching for me to tackle a scary movie that is actually scary after so many misfires will unfortunately have to itch for a bit longer, as I instead elect to cover a film that barely even qualifies for the genre.
(Extremely) loosely based on Capcom’s iconic survival horror franchise, Resident Evil is a cheesy, generic action flick that only offers cursory lip service to its source material.
Critics at the time dismissed it as being too much like a video game; Richard Harrington of the Washington Post declaring that it “looks and plays like a $40 million version of a game you’re more likely to enjoy on a computer”. Actual fans of Resident Evil felt the exact opposite, estranged from a film that was supposed to triumph their beloved series. It makes nobody happy, and twenty years later, it actually kind of makes me mad.
When amnesiac Alice awakens in a deserted mansion, she finds herself entangled in a deadly mission deep underground, alongside a commando squad and a smattering of other mysterious figures. She learns that she is an operative for the Umbrella Corporation, and that a chemical breach in a top secret subterranean facility has led to the automated security system terminating all of the lives within.
With such a wealth of rich settings introduced throughout Resident Evil’s history up to that point, it’s disappointing that they opted for a bland laboratory atmosphere. Dull and uninspired as that is, it is at least true to the series’ roots as a typical endgame location.
Alice herself is an original character written into the universe specifically for this film’s narrative, and though it’s underwhelming for the main character of a video game movie to not even come from a video game, this story is too far removed for it to have been, say, Jill Valentine (or a scantily clad Barry Burton).
She doesn’t really have much to say through the movie’s first half — reasonable considering she woke up naked and confused — leaving the military squad to do the heavy lifting. Other than some misplaced banter, it leaves little to the imagination, and as the unit is picked off one after another, you’re more likely to shrug than shriek.
The laser room scene is iconic, and more in line with the horror aspects I so desperately longed for, but make no mistake, this is an action film masquerading as something spooky.
Look no further than the aggressively loud soundtrack that drowns out dialogue, or the hokey moment where Alice remembers that she is a master of hand-to-hand combat. When she began displaying her athletic feats of violence, I actually winced. Funnily enough, it does prove something of a harbinger for what the series would later morph into.
There are some elements of horror that the film captures well; particularly how the opening extermination sequence juxtaposes the sterile meticulousness of the Umbrella Corporation with their ghastly lack of humanity. Lots of wonderful WorkCover claims that could have been made, had the injured parties not all died and turned into zombies.
On that note, it takes half an hour for us to actually see a zombie, and a further ten minutes for one to ever do anything of note. We are fortunately given a pack of demon dogs and a historically accurate Licker as compensation, but the dated CGI renders the latter particularly ineffectual for frights.
Concessions would have to be made for a video game movie to be palatable to a Hollywood audience, but other than the above token gestures, the license is completely superfluous. Even the principles that made Resident Evil’s atmosphere so impactful — feelings of tension, claustrophobia and isolation — are mind-numbingly absent.
This film is a frustrating mish-mash of ideas that borrows elements from much better licenses, presenting you with an unappealing platter that even the Baker family would turn their noses up at.
It’s like Aliens, without the pacing, subtext, or thrilling final act. It’s like House of the Dead, without the creativity, charm or gratification. Alas, what it most certainly is not like, is Resident Evil.
You can tell by the distinct absence of ornate keys.
When a film that alleges to be based on the gaming series that popularised the survival horror genre refuses to even try to be remotely scary, it doesn’t deserve to register a score for The All-Time Scariest.
Convinced though I was from memory that there was something about this movie that qualified the ‘horror action’ distinction, upon rewatching, I would just as likely strip the horror delineation from it entirely.
Honestly, I only even included it here to continue a trend, and I will atone for this sin by actually daring to watch a proper horror movie next time. No more low budget groaners, no more disingenuous blockbuster snorefests. We’re about to get real scary, real soon.