Review : Resident Evil (2022)

The name Resident Evil has become just as synonymous with audio-visual adaptations as it is with the video games that inspired them, all with their own unique take on how to play in the RE sandbox. Over the years, there have been three different sets of film series in the franchise, the first instance of live action adaptation in the wildly fascinating, but not necessarily consistent Resident Evil movies headed by Milla Jovovitch, the CGI film trilogy that take place in continuity with the games, and most recently Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. TV, however, has been less explored for this expansive and wild franchise of games, making its debut with a Netflix series that continues on from the CGI films, Infinite Darkness, and now the series takes a shot at moving to live action TV with Netflix’s Resident Evil.

Resident Evil is a bizarre adaptation. One half post-apocalypse drama that pulls from all the horror elements of the franchise, not just the zombies, but the mutations, viruses, cults and corporate militarism. The other half is ostensibly a teen melodrama turn conspiracy thriller, that really takes a hard swing with the RE franchises’ anti-corporate, anti-capitalist messaging. It culminates in a curious melodrama that seems determined to set itself apart from the larger franchise, paving its own way forward while using the Resident Evil themes, messaging and iconography.

In 2036, fourteen years after the end of the world, Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) is researching the infected in London, hiding out from the Umbrella Corporation. However, when she is captured by scavengers and offered up to Umbrella, she goes on the run to escape the corporation and make it back to her family. In 2022, Jade (Tamara Smart) and Billie Wesker (Siena Agudong) move to New Raccoon City, a company town run by Umbrella, with their father, Albert “Al” Wesker (an extremely excellent Lance Reddick). However, when the Billie and Jade break into their father’s lab to free what they think are animal test subjects, Jade finds a video file about an incident in Tijuana, and Billie is bitten by an infected dog, Jade and Billie set off on a journey through conspiracy, corporate greed and the secrets behind their father.

The series leans less into the scares of the franchise, opting for a more dramatic tone. It’s certainly off-putting to begin with, with the two different storylines. One feels more akin to what you’d expect, a post-apocalypse drama that sees Jade making her way through a zombie ravaged world. This is the section that leans into the horror aspect of the franchise, it’s often violent, gory, as Jade encounters zombies (Zeros), bioweapons, cults and of course Umbrella as the fascistic military force, rather than capitalist corporation that we see in the other storyline. It’s still got a heightened sense of melodrama to it; the teleplays can be overwritten, and while it is especially evident in the modern-day storyline, which feels more teen drama-ry, it’s not negated from the post-apocalypse parts too.

As for the present day, this is the more curious choice, a teen drama about two sisters, the increasing divide between them, despite their best efforts, as they acclimatise to a new home, with the seeds of intrigue sewn in until it ostensibly becomes a conspiracy thriller. This is the part of the show that feels baffling in comparison to the future storyline, in which the show can have its cake (in the form of a post-apocalypse), and eat it too (directly deal with Umbrella as a shady capitalist corporation). It is where the show goes almost full melodrama, mostly normal kids dealing with mostly normal issues in the world of Umbrella and the T-Virus, leading into the uncovering of secrets. This show is unsubtle about what it wants to deal with, it wants to give the audience the gory zombie/mutant show that casual audiences understand Resident Evil to be, while explicitly discussing the anti-corporate messaging that you can lose from Umbrella becoming this military force, all the while not retreading the same ground that the games and other adaptations have covered.

Every choice this show makes feels like a conscious decision to do just that, trying to do something new and play with the world without just retelling the same stories over and over. The decision to be more of a drama isn’t necessarily for the worst, especially in that regard, and as the show goes on, particularly in the second half of the season, it really begins to settle into itself (I don’t think it’s coincidence that this is when the show starts to show its linkages with the wider franchise), balancing the drama with the suspense, conspiracy and gloriously gory action, the primary issue is that the drama is still somewhat overwritten, and it doesn’t help that the pacing of the series feels a little off, but the choice isn’t necessarily the wrong move. Watching these concurrent stories about these sisters, their connections to the horrors unleashed on the world and their relationship to each other, they’re an engaging, compelling focus for the series, especially mixing the two storylines together. Sure, it is far more dramatic (or melodramatic) than Resident Evil has ever tried to be (emphasis on tried, we all remember the English writing and VO work in those early games), but in a world as large and full of potential as Resident Evil, the choice to make a horror drama creates something unique and sets itself apart as it enters the franchise’s sandbox.

The big problem with this show is really the peak TV of it all. It’s got the high quality, high production value sheen across it, along with the overly referential dialogue that feels part and parcel with the way TV feels like it has to call out the real world in comparison to itself (I don’t know how many times they call out various tech companies across the season). It really is all very well directed and well produced, which in many ways is a positive, however it feels like the show should feel schlockier, especially with these teleplays, that feel so much more heightened, the glossy, high production value nature of the show feels out of place, and a lot of the dialogue work doesn’t help in that way. It falls into the same modern TV trappings, where it feels checklisted, like they have to refer to the real world to appeal to casual audience members, where it has to look high budget because decidedly lower quality would turn them away. It creates a dissonance, watching something that looks and feels as high budget and quality, yet feels so schlocky and b-movie in the script, it feels like it should be leaning into that more.

If you’re a Resident Evil fan, your millage on this show will probably vary. However, the franchise has been through so many tones and genres over the years, there will be audiences who enjoy its more melodramatic action horror feel. The season feels like the show in its primordial stages, which isn’t necessarily a positive when you’re talking about a fully produced 8-episode season of TV, that being said, there’s a lot of great work on screen, that displays a lot of potential for future seasons. The show, at the end of the day, takes a lot of the fundamental narrative tenets of the franchise, and takes a swing with different tones and genres, leaning more into drama than horror specifically, scientists messing with things they never should have, corporations looking to make a profit, what are the real monsters, the creatures that they create or the creators and moneymen behind those creatures. While it is a bit overwritten, it’s a rather compelling, if not curious adaptation of a storied horror franchise, that takes aim to expand the world in different ways. It may not please everyone, but there’s enough here for an exciting new take on the property, even if it’s not quite all there.

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