Director: Paul W. S Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Wentworth Miller, Ali Larter, Boris Kodjoe, Shawn Roberts, Kim Coates, Spencer Locke
Plot: Alice (Jovovich) heads to Alaska to catch up with her former friends in a safe haven, but are they even still alive?
Resident Evil’s fourth entry to the wildly successful and critically despised movie franchise opens with a quick summary of why, sometimes, this series can be utter garbage. Heavy rock soundtrack at the ready, illogical fight choreography not far behind, Alice launches an assault on an Umbrella secret base, joined by several clones the cliff-hanger to Extinction conveniently gave her. What follows is up there with one of the worst sequences of the entire film, mainly because, by the fourth entry, part of you hoped that the production team would have learnt from some of their mistakes by now. With clone after clone being slaughtered in a bloody gun fight, it is hard to muster up much emotion to care for the characters. It doesn’t help that Albert Wesker, one of video games’ greatest villains, is finally given a slice of the action, but Shawn Roberts is asked to purposefully play him as if he is actually voicing a melodramatic video game baddie. Pointless explosions add to the air of this opener seeming more like a rock music video than a functional story. The only plus point is that it ends with an interesting plot point: Alice loses her telekinetic powers due to a serum and is reduced back to a normal, albeit still badass, person.
Thankfully, Afterlife improves almost as soon as Umbrella is out of the picture, returning some good old-fashioned zombie killing fun. Alice takes a plane to Arcadia, the supposed sanctuary where Claire Redfield took the remaining survivors, but finds a strange absence of safety. What she does find is a brain-washed Claire Redfield who is suffering from memory loss. The pair of them strike up an uneasy relationship and head back out to central America in the hopes of finding anything that could resemble a life away from the apocalypse. This brings us to them finding a group of survivors trapped in a penitentiary. Finally Resident Evil lands home to something familiar and gripping. Being the only source of food for the zombies of Los Angeles, every zombie in the city forms a ring around the prison, locking the survivors behind thick walls. Alice’s plane can only carry two people at a time and with a risky landing path, constant trips is not necessarily an option. Wentworth Miller plays a mysterious man locked in a high security cell (Prison Break references are not lost on the director’s head), claiming to be a soldier and with knowledge of a way out, but is he really just a dangerous convict desperate for escape? This is more the kind of material we want from our Resident Evil movies, especially spending time with characters who are closer to scared, desperate survivors, rather than skilled fighters. There is still a sense of uneasiness about slowing the action down to a thoughtful zombie thriller though, so don’t expect Walking Dead levels of characterisation and burning levels of dread. There are still characters who might as well be wearing bright, red shirts and the pacing is probably a tad too quick to enjoy the interesting set-up. Afterlife does earn some new interest by taking the best bits from the video game instalment which was released around the same time, Resident Evil 5. It introduced a new strain of the T-Virus, giving us a new breed of zombie that shakes the formula up a bit. It allows for some interesting variations on the movies, without getting rid of the core zombie thrills. Zombies now have plant-based mouths that burst out suddenly, like a cross between the zombies of old, joined with a terrifying venus fly trap. The zombie dogs can split their entire upper bodies to create a horrific mouth of swirling teeth. Best of all, Afterlife takes one of the most memorable monsters of the fifth game, the Executioner, which was relegated to a painfully short part of the game, but Anderson promotes him to the movie’s stand-out scene. A hulking Frankstein zombie armed with a hilariously-sized hammer/axe, he makes for a fine climatic fight. Although this does bring me onto Afterlife’s biggest problem: an over-abundance of slo-mo footage. Released at a year when 3D was the hottest thing on the block, a lot of the fight scenes were made for 3D viewing. In 2D, it feels over-used and robs certain moments of bite. The fight with the Executioner is joked to be twenty seconds long, when played at normal time.
Eventually, Afterlife leaves the prison setting and brings us to the final chapter part of the movies. While it robs the series of its zombie side of things, by the fourth entry, this is feeling like a comfortable routine. Unlike the absence of zombies in this movie’s introduction, the lab setting of the finale feels more narrative-driven and appealing to the fans that prefer a more action-based adventure. It is definitely more satisfying than other endings of Resident Evil have been and, for a welcome change, doesn’t quite suspend disbelief any more than we have had it done in the past. While perhaps it does cut into precious time that could have been spent in the prison complex, this hardly feels like the worst crime Resident Evil has subjected us to. In fact, I almost look forward to Part 5.
Final Verdict: Inconsistent from start to end, but when it finds something good, Afterlife is surprisingly enjoyable.