The Resident Evil Films: An Ode to Artistic Freedom

Initially based on the popular video game franchise, the Resident Evil films are equally maligned by critics and audiences alike. There are however, many loyal fans who continue to support the franchise to this day.  Regardless of which side of the divide one might find themselves on, underneath the stock characters and schlock violence, lies something that demands further exploration.

Filled with endless Looking Glass allegories, on the surface, these stories are about the evolution of Alice, the series’ protagonist. The manipulation of memory, dreamlike flashbacks, and a repetitive rhythm form the basis of Resident Evil's opus. Alice begins the film as a mirror of a video game persona. Confused and abandoned in a lush mansion that sits atop a nefarious laboratory, she descends into the madness below, embarking on an odyssey of bullets, blades, and the undead. The thing is, none of it actually matters because the films purposefully abandon the plot of the game in favor of making a rather provocative statement.

Each film has a theme. The first film is about relationships and how the same event is remembered differently by the two participants. The second film is about military as a business. The third is an apocalyptic story about the culture of government surveillance. The fourth focuses on cloning and multiple past lives. The fifth brings these elements together by forcing the hero to work with the villain in order to save humanity.  The final chapter explores the nature of a creative empire and the conflict between the artist and the corporation.

It doesn't fully click until the fifth film, when the various clues hidden in each film start to come together: There's a beautifully shot sequence by Glen Macpherson involving an endless procession of clones, all of them various characters from each of the films. No matter the environment, the women are always scantily clad while the men appear as macho ideas rather than fleshed out characters. Virtually every film is critically panned but yet manages to make a staggering amount of money. Finally, there is the idea of the good guys being forced to cooperate with their corporate foils in order to succeed.

The final entry, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter uses the series' trademarked cyclical formula to deliver a kill shot to the over saturated American box office.  Featuring slick fight choreography, MacPherson's impressive visuals, and a script that abandons any sense of restraint, this is the perfect conclusion to Anderson's deceptive masterwork.  These films are a scathing indictment of Hollywood and a love note to the importance of creative freedom. They're remarkably presented and equally catty, all while espousing the idea that art, in its various forms is a part of the creator who gives it life.

Recycled characters and plot lines, hordes of zombie like fans, authoritative control on everything we experience down to our visual memories, and on and on and on. The argument loses some water with reference to the first two films, but in the third, when the series finally finds its stride is where it begins to communicate its true intent. The final three films, helmed by Anderson drive the point home. They feature some legitimately beautiful cinematography by Macpherson, pure adrenaline laced fight choreography by Brett Chan, wicked costumes by Wendy Partridge, and a performance by Milla Jovovich that is both committed to the story and loyal to the rebellious underpinnings.

Available now for digital rental, the Resident Evil series of films may not be for everyone, but the sum of their parts is an important examination of the current box office obsession that is dividing fans and critics, crushing artistic agency, and burning virtual bridges across social media. These (particularly the last four) movies are renegade film making at its finest.

--Kyle Jonathan