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: Apocalypse (2004)
Director: Alexander Witt
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory
Alright horror fans, let’s take a deep breath here. This column that was allegedly intended to explore the most terrifying films of the genre, has quickly devolved into a situational piece where I watch whatever is convenient to me at any given time.
As much as I don’t want to review the second Resident Evil film from a horror perspective, I am too beholden to my self-imposed tradition of RE Week to ignore it. So bear with me, and I will attempt to uncover any semblance of frights that may be present in this turgid stinker.
Spoiler: there are none. Turn back now before the t-Virus claims your life, too.
Set in the immediate aftermath of the original flick, Apocalypse takes Alice to the mean streets of Raccoon City, where she finds herself in the midst of a major catastrophe. Right off the bat, I do have to give Paul W. S. Anderson credit for pulling a thematic 180 on how closely he would stick to the source material. Whereas the first Resident Evil resembled the iconic gaming franchise in name only, the sequel is a fairly faithful interpretation of the events of Resident Evil 3, complete with Jill Valentine and her skimpy attire.
This is something of a double-edged sword as Jill’s portrayal paints her as some kind of aloof renegade, but as we will discover in the years to come, that’s ultimately her cinematic fate no matter who’s playing her. Anyhow, fandom glasses down. Horror glasses up — preferably in the form of jet black sunglasses.
To get you up to speed, Apocalypse takes place during this universe’s version of the Raccoon City Destruction Incident, which should make for a more dread-inducing atmosphere. There’s a reason why the sterile laboratories serve as final acts for the games, as it’s a crescendo that takes us behind the veil. Few of us can relate to the notion of a team of commandos trapped in an underground complex, whereas a viral infection bringing a community to its knees is more believable. And shit, yeah, it kinda happened a few years ago.
Unfortunately, beyond the premise, Apocalypse does absolutely nothing with this complete layup of a narrative. Valentine (Sienna Guillory) meets up with Umbrella soldier Carlos Olivera (a questionably cast and yet undeniably solid Oded Fehr), both tasked with extracting a stranded child in exchange for extraction from the doomed city. Once Alice (Milla Jovovich) comes back into the narrative however — quite fittingly entering the scene with all the subtlety of “crashing through a church window on a motorbike that she then uses as a motorised projectile, inexplicably sending a Licker assailant skyward before blasting it to pieces in an explosive hellfire” — any potential for nuance is quite literally up in flames.
Alice consistently sticks out like a sore thumb in this film. Contextually suitable for the non-derivative “plot” in the first movie, she is a jarring addition to the September events of Raccoon City. It’s as if someone sloppily threw together an RE3 fan fiction where their MC was suddenly the central figure behind everything.
Notably, Apocalypse’s predecessor earned a 0 rating for The All-Time Scariest. Somehow, it almost feels as though someone watched that movie, deemed it “too scary” and managed to hurriedly lead us even further away from the horror genre.
This is straight-up action slop, and nothing else. Even the appearance of Nemesis — who looks and feels fabulous apart from his bedroom eyes — is played for high-octane scenes of quick-cut nothingness. The closest we get to jump scares occur when a ranting, raving priest sneaks up on the highly trained police task force specialist Jill Valentine (what?) or when a classroom of zombie children get the drop on a very paranoid and terrified civilian who would otherwise panic if a mop fell over (double what?)
At the end of the day, those aforementioned hordes of zombies provide little more than an occasional backdrop. Alice and Matt, the only survivors to escape from the Hive, are highlighted as the crux of Apocalypse, sending Jill to the sidelines while Jovovich engages in unarmed combat against the seemingly invincible Nemesis.
When the lead character is a superhuman cheat code, the stakes come crashing down. If she isn’t scared about the life-or-death situation she’s in, why would we be? Just turn your brain off like an honest-to-god zombie, and enjoy all of the flashing lights and colours.
Say what you will about the first Resident Evil film (and I did), it was at least still a zombie movie at heart. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is truly a time capsule for what Hollywood was obsessed with at the time; dreadfully shot fight scenes meant to prop up forgettable characters and paper-thin plots.
As an RE film, it’s actually fine, I want to make that clear. It’s got Jill, it’s got Carlos, it’s got Nemesis and all his toys. But I’ll say it time and time again, there is nothing horrific about these flicks beyond a realisation of how much money was sunk into them. If I had a negative paw rating on offer, you’d best believe that I would be dishing it out here.