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