I’ve been weirdly fascinated/confused at the continuing attempts to make Resident Evil a thing beyond the series of iconic video games that exists as the granddaddy of modern horror survival genre. Oh, sure, the relentlessly witless movie franchise that saw Mila Jovovich strike numerous stylish poses in the face of zombie armageddon may have it’s fans (of which I am not) and there’s been a few animated films too, but they’ve never really set the world on fire. Even last year’s Resident Evil reboot, Welcome To Racoon City, was a noticable dud despite being way more faithful to the source material so it seemed that RE fans couldn’t win no matter what they did… So the announcement that Netflix was throwing its hat into the video game ring somewhat baffling, even despite the fact that the streaming site had noticable success with The Witcher – is this latest attempt to raise another Umbrella finally cracked the code or do RE fans have yet another property that needs a round to the head..?
The year is 2036 and it’s been about 14 years since shit apocalyptically hit the fan and left the earth a ruined wasteland dotted with various zombie hordes and the occasional mutated monster lurking around, waiting to strike. In this dystopian shit-hole we find Jade Wesker who is studying the behavioural patterns of a zombie horde, but after she is accidently spotted she has to make a break for it before she gets a chance to examine the Zombie’s digestive tracts first hand and all he work is wasted when the ghouls are eradicated by her security measures. However, before she can take a breath she’s mauled by a giant caterpillar (no, really) but is saved by gun wielding men and taken to a refuge.
From here we bounce back to 2022, 3 months before the world went tits up to meet a younger Jade as she and her timid “twin” sister, Billie arrive at planned community in South Africa run by the prolific Umbella Corporation named New Racoon City. Their father, Albert Wesker is doing vital, yet predictably shady and mysterious work for Umbrella and therefore isn’t around much to do his parently duties which has left Jade tough and confident and the meeker Billie utterly defenceless against the bullies who can sniff her out a mile away.
However, after taking a mental health day away from the pressures of school, vegan Billie notices that her father’s work seems to include animal testing so the girls break into his lab to liberate some poor tortured animals and instead find something a lot worse.
Meanwhile, back in 2036, Jade’s saviours have an ulterior motive for saving her life as she seems to be on Umbrella’s most wanted list and they’re hoping to collect…
It seems, from the first episode at least, that the makers of Resident Evil what to have their genetically mutated cake and eat it as this brand new attempt to adapt the games stands with a boot firmly planted in two worlds. On one side we have the post apocalyptic thread which, much like the majority of the movies, sees our heroine, Jade, try to negotiate a world of zombies (now infected living humans dubbed “Zeroes”) and whatever random variety of mutant monsters fate throws her way next. On the other, we have the slow burn of a gradual reveal as the family issues of the Wesker clan get tangled up with the conspiracy theory breeding mischief of the ubiquitous Umbrella Corporation and it’s a shame to say that neither timeline really captures the imagination all that much as the show limbs over a lot of previously covered ground. The random monster stuff being handled by a Kaiju sized Heinlich from A Bug’s Life feels more like something out of Love & Monsters and the introduction of a zombie dog (surely RE’s unofficial mascot by this point) at the end of the episode hints at the kind of episodic creature featuring of Korean set show Sweet Home. But while the monster stuff carries it’s own charm, even the sight of a gang of Zeroes getting torched alive is particularly scary or exciting and that’s something the show needs to work on, stat, or we’re in for a long eight episodes.
While the future stuff plays as fairly standard end-of-the-world guff with tons of rubble and back stabbing survivors, it’s the 2022 set stuff that has to provide the character beats and the introduction of Jade and her sister comes off as noticably weird – and not in a good way. Obviously there’s going to be some revelations about their origins somewhere down the line, if only because their explanation of tge nature of their existence seems a highly suspect, while not forgetting to mention the fact that they’re the adopted children of arch Resident Evil baddie, Albert Wesker, a man renowned for screwing with human DNA the way a child messes with fireworks.
The actresses involved do a serviceable job of outsiders starting in a new, creepily pristine town but young Jade and Billie are oddly written to be distractingly weird, with the latter being almost cartoonish passive in the face of some cold blooded school bullying. However, I guess that their rather extreme personalities (Jade retaliates by flat out assaulting the girl responsible and framing Billie in order to make her seem formidable) will be explained thanks to a future twist or two, but so far the only real plus point here is the awesomely dependable Lance Reddick who give this version of Wesker a tangible sense of menace that’s coiled as tightly as a spring and that makes use of those resplendent vocal chords of his.
Apparently, devout fans will notice that the backstory behind the plot of the show follows RE lore fairly closely, but if I’m being honest I haven’t played any of the games in yonks and couldn’t judge if it provides an actual benefit to the show even if my life depended on it and so we’ll have to see where this all goes.
While undoubtedly stylish, this newest attempt to bring Resident Evil home has yet to make itself welcome.