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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D (review)

Damage Report

If there’s one thing that hacktacular director Paul W.S. Anderson really, really likes, it’s droplets of water drifting across a movie screen in slo-mo. It’s a visual motif he repeats several times in Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D. Deployed by a different filmmaker, one actually concerned with such things as mood, character, or theme — and yeah, such things are important even in a zombie action movie — the slo-mo rain might mean something: it could indicate serenity, perhaps, or rage; it might be the external representation of one character’s sadness, maybe, or of another’s existential escape.

In Anderson’s hands, it’s nothing more than empty imagery. It’s style without even style, texture without substance. It is, almost quite literally, white noise, visual static to make the movie pop more in 3D.

And it’s also excellent for drenching hot babes and ensuring that what little formfitting clothing they’re wearing clings even tighter. Anderson makes sure that’s an image that recurs, too.
It would be pointless to complain about this kind of crap if this kind of crap weren’t dominating studio filmmaking at the moment. While I was enduring this tiresome exercise in cookie-cutter junk it suddenly occurred to me that it is an exceptional — and hence terrible — measure of how creatively bankrupt a decade Hollywood has had since the turn of the millennium: cinematic trolls like Anderson are still stealing wholesale from The Matrix, a movie now more than a decade old. There’s simply been nothing worth stealing from in the interim. Wachowski stink is all over this waste of time, from the Umbrella Corporation honcho who appears to be consciously aping Agent Smith to the “bullet time” dancing around automatic weapon fire. Needless to say, Anderson (Death Race, Alien vs. Predator), who also wrote the script, such as it is, obviously felt no need to steal any of the substance of that great film: there are no characters approaching the human here, and not only is there no subtext to what passes for a story, there’s barely a text.

Yes, the 3D is immersive — this was shot the same way James Cameron created Avatar; it was not 3D-ized postproduction — but there’s nothing to be immersed in here but the blood, bullets, and globs of brainmatter flying around. The cloned and superpowered Alice (Milla Jovovich: The Fourth Kind, A Perfect Getaway) continues her war against the Umbrella Corporation, which created and released a virus that turned humanity into zombies, save for a few bands of survivors. But though Alice loses her superpowers early in the film, you’d never know it from the orgy of zombie bloodshed and comprehensive mayhem she is able to execute. The search for “Arcadia” continues, a perhaps mythical place where there is no infection, and where “we offer safety and security, food and shelter,” a radio broadcast announces, drawing in refugees.

We know Arcadia offers these things, because we hear the broadcast. And then Alice repeats it word for word for us in her narration, in case we’d somehow just missed it. Anderson’s script repeats this motif, too: explaining the plain and obvious again and again, presumably because he expects his film will be viewed by morons. Which is, perhaps, why he worries not at all about characters behaving in ways apparently detrimental to their own survival as long as it looks “cool” onscreen. And why he isn’t worried about the outrageous coincidences that his characters don’t notice. And why he doesn’t feel the need for any of them to wonder WTF is up with the giant zombie who suddenly appears capable of using tools. One might expect that evolving zombies would present something of a concern for the few not-undead humans left, but they don’t appear to care.

And if they don’t care about their own survival, why should we?

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MPAA: rated R for sequences of strong violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
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