"New York Sequence Initialized": Genre Cues and Play in the Resident Evil Film Franchise

Curator's Note

While Genre films are seldom credited with asking much of their audiences, and cinematic video-game adaptations even less so, the Resident Evil film franchise has long been slyly putting both gamers and non-gaming filmgoers to ludic work, as in evidence in the most recent cinematic installment, Resident Evil: Retribution (2012). While the Resident Evil film adaptations of the games have faithfully preserved many game story, character, and combat setpiece elements, keeping a constant reminder of their origins fresh in viewers’ minds, these installments are more than glorified, no-controller-necessary live action walkthroughs of the popular games, instead building on their extant Horror genre elements (one doesn’t need to have logged a single minute playing the game to know from viewings of any one of dozens of zombie films that it is crucial to shoot for the head!) to encourage audiences to anticipate and explore the universe of the Umbrella Corporation through their genre expectations instead of literal gameplay.

Traditional game mechanics are on display in plotting, to be certain, with setpieces clearly analogous to levels that must be cleared, but audiences can also profit ludically from knowing that zombie bites are bad news, Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) has an antecedent in Aliens (1986), and since Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), the slight-looking young woman in the pretty dress is the one the monsters have to watch out for, Alice (Milla Jovovich) no exception. The latest installment takes us not only through urban and suburban cinematic zombie tropes familiar from the recent explosion of zombie films, but unblinkingly draws upon the structure and artificiality of the whole setup as well: characters killed in other films return, the film begins with strangely domestic Alice in a warmly-lit suburban idyll before the zombies attack and it is eventually revealed that that there are many clones of the same characters playing out these scenarios repeatedly for Umbrella. It’s a good as explanation as any for why we see the same archetypes again and again in our genre pieces, and allows for a total dismemberment of filmic continuity with audience consent. This playful approach, presented so conspiratorially, may well be enough to keep the franchise alive (or undead) for years to come. 

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