(2008) Resident Evil: Degeneration or Deterioration



Resident Evil is a missed opportunity. For those of you who grew up playing the games on that little gray PlayStation, you know what I'm talking about. The awe the first time the zombie turned its head and shambled towards you. The fright when the dogs jumped through the window and you frantically tried to shoot the little fuckers as they ran circles around you. The puzzle of the mansion. The labyrinth of raccoon city and the police station. The gleeful satisfaction of finally finding a way to open a door you've passed by for hours. Resident Evil at its core was about exploration, the threat of death and restarting from a safe, and persevering the puzzle with limited resources. These tropes became quickly became solidified as Survival Horror. 
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The films, on the other hand, took a different path. All style and no content. The moment, lost faith was the moment when the horrors became set pieces for bullet ballet. A celebration of the superficial. I'd argue that the films box office dominance even shifted the tone of the games, especially between Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. The series always homage to a minimal of camp through shotty voice acting and odd plot choices.

While the early games, and the films differ drastically in tone. There are still many narrative elements that stay the same. Weskers pesky double agent antics. Umbrella's metaphor for big business politics and corporate sovereignty over the will of the planet. Where the films significantly diverge is the post-apocalyptic backdrop. We had reached the end of the world by the 3rd film. While the games limited the spread of Umbrellas experiments to localized set pieces. Towns, cities, and so on.

Ahh, but what about Resident Evil 7? The remake, reimagining, and restart that removed zombies (in favor mutations) and returned to the tension-filled corridors and architectural puzzles. While I feel that the series made a smart move by returning the series to something scary, the core of the original idea has been so displaced, so shifted that Resident Evil moved beyond self-identity.

The set of 3 CGI films take another direction, continuing and branching from where the game narrative left off. Familiar characters return and join forces to fight Umbrella's Evil. An evil which also has shifted. Once a laboratory screw up leading to an outbreak becomes transnational terrorism seeking to garner profits from the catastrophes they create.

One could make the case that films, follow up games and CGI films are just continuing the narrative and branching out storylines to flesh out the resident evil universe. But 20 years have passed since the original game was released and the creative entity that developed and shaped the story has largely moved on to other projects. Unlike Game of Thrones who have one author to shape the story, intellectual properties like Resident Evil have so many hands stirring to the pot it's impossible to when the original creative entity was swallowed by the larger fish.
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What are we left with? A story loosely based on a story and a movie based on a video game that in turn becomes video game shaped by the success of a film. What got lost along the way was pride in an authentic creation. A desire to deliver a set of consistent feelings to the player. Dread and expectation of more dread. Claustrophobia and sweaty palms strained from an all too tight grip on a controller.

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