Movie Review - Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
By Ben Gruchow
January 31, 2017

This is the way that the RE series ends...

Resident Evil: The Last Chapter is a film one watches with mounting reservations, then witnesses with mounting dread, then endures with mounting tinnitus. Walking out of the auditorium as the end credits roll is like surviving a crawl through slivers of glass and shards of barbed wire while the foley library from the Apocalypse shrieks through a megaphone strapped to your head. You know you've survived something awful, but you're so banged-up and concussed from the experience that you don't remember much.

This film is a nauseating experience. It contains no characters worth caring about, no sights worth seeing, no story worth following. 106 minutes are filled with incidents and encounters that bear no context or build or momentum, consisting of the most jittery and overcaffeinated camerawork and editing in an action film in years, mated to hyperactive sound design turned up to eardrum-rending levels. When my partner and I first walked into the XD auditorium, we sat in our normal spot: right at the back of the lower segment, a little more than a third of the auditorium's distance from the screen. Immersive, but not overwhelming. For most films.

Twenty minutes into this movie and we picked up and relocated fully 50 or 60 feet backward. It wasn't that we were necessarily overwhelmed; it was that the action sequences (and this film easily qualifies as one unending action sequence) are shot and cut so closely and hectically and jaggedly that the sensation invoked queasiness and a burgeoning migraine. Folks, I've seen Cloverfield and Jason Bourne and the first hour of The Hunger Games in theaters. Pervasive shaky-cam is not a deal-breaker to me. This goes way beyond shaky-cam; this is Grand Mal-cam. Moving back helped - not a lot, but enough to alleviate all but the worst of the chaotic camerawork.

I do not mean to insinuate that this film's problems stop at the communication of its cinematography. Terrence Malick wouldn't be able to drag this one over the line to a recommendation. The problems aren't intrinsic to its conception (this is a sentiment we'll elaborate on a bit later on. The movie is really left out to dry by a preponderance of amateur-hour stylistic and procedural flubs somewhat surprising to those familiar with the writer-director, Paul W.S. Anderson. This is the man behind Mortal Kombat, Alien vs. Predator, Event Horizon, and Pompeii: all films with common dramatic liabilities, but all with common visceral assets to help offset them, or at least make them relatively easy sits. I have no idea what happened with him here.

The Last Chapter opens with its best sequence. This is a trait common to all of the Resident Evil films-save for the third one, which found its apotheosis mid-film, and the second, which has no good sequences. This one is a combined chase and face off in the husk of a ruined Washington D.C., between genetically-modified super-soldier Alice (Milla Jovovich, never better in the role, for what that's worth), and what appears to be a gigantic hybrid of land-dwelling crustacean and the flying piranhas from The Spawning. The sequence is still shot too haphazardly and cut way too frenetically, but there's a certain elemental binary focus to it missing from the rest of the film, and there's some standalone moments that provide an evocative chill (a shot of Alice from behind, looking across the Reflecting Pool at a pitted and scarred Washington Monument, is lovely in its construction and lighting and unsettling as a way to open the film). The “Previously on…” recap that precedes the title card is better still - finally giving us a motive for the Umbrella Corporation's homicidal business plan that's comprehensible, if not sensible. And the movie's digital and prosthetic effects are mostly convincing.

Somewhere around “genetically-modified super-soldier,” I realized what an exercise in futility it would be to try and summarize the escalating weirdness of this franchise's narrative arc. Suffice to say: Umbrella is an evil corporation that created zombies with a virus. The zombies got out and took over the world and killed almost everyone. Alice is resistant to the virus; instead of zombifying her, it makes her super-strong. She hates Umbrella and wants to take them down; they want to regain control of her, and thus we basically have an iteration of the “rebel against the Empire” plotline, with each film finger-painting a stylistic homage to a different genre classic, replacing most of the nuance with explosions and dire pronouncements. It comes a lot closer to working than it sounds, mostly based on if nothing else Anderson's commitment to energy and showmanship. His dialogue, as if to compensate, is basic and trite; his directing of actors is atrociously bad. All of these things were at their most polished and accomplished with the most recent film in this series.

Here, the conclusion of the opening sequence heralds all of the promise we're ever going to get. Remember the virus that Umbrella released that killed everyone? Alice learns early on here that they also created an antivirus, one that can go airborne and cure everyone by destroying the T-virus cells in their body. This antivirus is located in the Hive, the subterranean industrial setting of the first film. So Alice travels there, running into adversaries and companions along the way, and you will not feel spoiled to know that in the final act of the film they arrive at the entrance to the Hive and begin to make their final stand.

This leads to one of the most hilariously inept thriller sequences ever to appear in this series, and for context we are including a film where a weakened human walks away from a fiery plane crash into a mountain without so much as a singed hair. The only entrance to the Hive is through a giant circular vent fan, with several layers of spinning blades, unpowered - but not for long. Our crew makes it through the fan blades just as it begins, and once it does it gently lifts the hair off the actors' brow and no doubt provides a lovely air circulation.

But then the antagonist hiding in the Hive orders the vent fan to reverse; as the actors look on in manufactured horror, the fan blades begin to reverse themselves. Now, however, it creates suction powerful enough to drag all of them back in; Alice and crew must now strain to get away from it, by planting their feet and leaning forward real far. Then the suction picks up, and they must grab hold of protrusions to avoid being lifted off their feet and diced into chunks. One of their crew provides a helpful demonstration. The actors look on in manufactured shock and grief; emotional strings swell on the soundtrack, which would indicate that we were supposed to be invested in this character. A tall order for a movie that allots the actor in question one moment of short introductory dialogue before turning her into a mercenary.

Regardless, the scene is monumental in its silliness and gaps in logic, and I spent two paragraphs describing it because it provides a lovely microcosm of almost everything that is wrong with this movie. Set pieces are arranged around the needs of whatever sequence happens to be playing (why on Earth would none of these supposedly seasoned warriors wonder if perhaps there was an alternative entrance to the Hive? Did Umbrella security shut down the fan each morning to allow temps and biochemists access to their work? What happened to the train tunnel from the first film?); characters behave in colossally stupid ways, and the movie would somehow allow us to believe that the default setting for a giant industrial ventilation system is “gentle breeze” in one direction, and “murderous gale” in the other. When a minor character is offed, the filmmakers somehow believed there was enough empathy inherent in their screenplay to begin issuing stirring orchestral music. The failure of this as a narrative device is cringe-inducing to witness. Scene cuts occur without crucial intermediate action.

It does at least have semi-legible action choreography and camerawork, which provides the sole bright spot apart from the opening. As for the rest…forget it. There are entire chunks of this film that I know I saw and yet don't remember a single image or shot from, because the camera is always jaggedly moving, zooming, cutting, running, shaking. One angle on an action won't do if six different angles of the same action are possible. If there is ever a moment of silence, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will be broken within seconds with a deafeningly loud roar or crash or clatter.

The most frustrating aspect here is what could have been. No, I do not think that the Resident Evil films are particularly “good,” but this does not mean I think they're without merits. In this final film, Anderson makes use of two narrative developments that could have been kind of terrific. There is the final explanation for and justification as to why Umbrella seems so committed to killing everything. You don't really need to know the rationale; cueing up Donald Trump's inaugural address on YouTube will cover much the same territory. And the final developments, involving unexpected ancestry and questions of memory and loss and identity (as well as truly bad age makeup and acting), have the bones of effective cinema in them.

The penultimate moments are the type that the mind tends to reflect on a little more fondly as the days pass. In the moment, all I could think of was how useless the whole thing ultimately was and how little I could remember of the film I just saw. I wanted this to succeed, and since the "last chapter" does indeed leave the door open for another damned sequel in this series, I can hold out hope for a potentially superior conclusion down the road. This one is dead on arrival.

0.5 / 5