I have no problem admitting that I love the 'Resident Evil' film franchise, despite its flaws in every entry. It's odd, really, since I literally wanted to break the game discs in half every time I'd try to play them, but I'm not one of those fans who holds the movies up against the games and years worth of expectations. I see this series as a cutting edge sci-fi horror series, featuring my favorite horror creature, the undead, reanimated humans who now hunger for flesh. With the bipolar, yet still scary (to this day it gives me the creeps), claustrophobic original standing as the high note, a horrid misfire of a sequel with the least intimidating villain ever (seriously, Nemesis looks like a human-pug hybrid), a fun third entry that ended on such a bad note that I wrote the live action series off as being unrecoverable, and a CGI survival tale set early on in the outbreak, tying in some of the more popular video game characters, the 'Resident Evil' film franchise surely could have been retired. It would have been somewhat graceful, considering the difficulties that would surely arise due to the finale of 'Extinction,' where the special effects budget to make the twist believable in future volumes would have cost as much as the original did in its entirety.
I won't say that 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' pulled off the impossible and made a bad situation good...because it didn't. It is a 97 minute live action video game, complete with gimmicky effects, too many moments that felt like boss battles, and an ending that not even a mother could love, as it would rather blow the doors off for another inevitable sequel, rather than offer any sort of hope. By the time the twists and turns are over, viewers may leave wondering why this film blew its load too early, gave us the worst villain in the series, and forgot its own plot devices in lieu of convenience for the sake of some pretty sweet looking, though utterly unbelievable, special effects shots.
Four years after the Umbrella Corporation "accidentally" "unleashed" its deadly T-Virus on the world, creating a host of zombie-like creatures that soon overran any vestige of humanity, Alice (also known as Project Alice, or Milla Jovovich) and her *spoilers* clone army invade the underground Tokyo Umbrella headquarters, taking the fight to the company that destroyed the world, and is living without a care for its actions. Her target? Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), a fellow human injected with the T-Virus in order to become superhuman.
Soon after, Alice begins to search for signs of life, somewhere, anywhere, hoping that the rumored safe haven known as Arcadia is as safe and infection free as the emergency radio waves declare it to be. What she finds instead is a desperate group of souls who have locked themselves into a Los Angeles prison, surrounded by zombies, that are beginning to tunnel their way under those amazingly thick walls. With Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and the mysterious Chris (Wentworth Miller) in tow, Alice is seeking to regain her humanity by ending the biggest threat to her kind.
'Resident Evil: Afterlife' isn't so much a bad film as it is one that requires brains to be turned off in order for any enjoyment to take place. It's a film that focuses so much on style above substance that it lacks the ability to bridge larger action sequences together, creating an experience that would have made for an amazing video game, but still a disappointing movie experience.
Without Jovovich, there would be no 'Resident Evil' film series, so it's nice to see the underrated female action star again kicking zombie ass and taking it to the man. However, it's lame that, after throwing her kit off so casually in the first few films, Alice is constantly surrounded by more clothes than the prison is by zombies. And let's just say that prison has itself an entire city's worth of zombies keeping it surrounded. We get teased with the allure of a shower scene, but it's quickly thrown away for an action sequence before we even get that nice, needed break from the constant negativity. Since when was this film series so above the simple exploitation of nudity? It's so full of random kills (that focus more on originality than practicality) that demand the most dedicated suspension of belief, and sequences that continue to offer that last ditch escape route, that I just found the sudden chastity to be a bit of a turn off, if you'd appreciate that irony.
The opening sequence in Japan had potential, but it's botched, as the overly-'Matrix'-y battle sequences (and they get even more 'Matrix'-y in the final battle, never you worry) with the army of fodder Alices failing to deliver any sense of connection to the character. We get so few words out of the head of the facility, our main baddie Wesker, that it just seems tacked on so the rest of the film has some sense of continuity with the segment. Worse yet, we see Alice have her superhuman powers stripped of her, yet later on in the film, she still has that amazing speed to easily dodge and weave her way through hordes and hordes of flesh eaters that have been chomping at the bit for months, if not years. She also has some damn amazing stamina, fighting off some of the bigger nasties she's had to face. Odd.
The prison sequence has to be the highlight of 'Afterlife,' despite its heavy flaws. Sure, the new survivors are annoying, and are most certainly just there so we can have some entertaining deaths, but we finally get to see the humans stay in place to try to fight, as 'Extinction' featured roving bands that failed to hit home. Being trapped in prison, with the danger on the outside, rather than the inside? That's one of the best ideas this series has had yet. Still, we get a botched handling in the way we meet the Chris character, and we get too little human drama, despite the way we are kept on our toes due to the increasing threat, particularly due to the appearance of the Axeman (referred to in the supplements as Executioner), a horrible mutant giant with a burlap sack covered head and the Biggest. Axe. Ever. That fight sequence has to be the pinnacle of the film, and yet, the film has a ton of time left. Uh oh. Arcadia. To progress without spoiling the plot points to the film is impossible, but needless to say, the final act of the film is the most heinously silly, over-the-top, stupid as sin mishmash of action sequences, trying to capture the great mysterious feeling of the opening of the Hive in the first film, and delivering foes that just don't give us reason to root for or against anyone. Everything feels like a foregone conclusion. There's no tension. The film is over, yet it drags on, pretending it still has something to show us.
Claire is handled as poorly as Chris, with the all-too-cliche convenient "amnesia" effects that wear off right when they need to, and Larter is far removed from the days when she was an entertaining, believable actress. She's just window dressing in this film, anyways, let's be frank. Everyone is window dressing in this film where Alice, and only Alice, is worth paying attention to. This is a film that has far too many "comin' at ya!" moments intended to take advantage of the 3D it was filmed with (which was, by far, the biggest hype this film had coming for it, as the trailer advertised its use of the 'Avatar' camera system), to not be distracting and silly in 2D. It features instrumental music that's far from relevant or even remembered (A Perfect Circle? Isn't that side group about as forgotten as Zwan these days?!?), and cookie cutter cardboard cut out characters that fail to do anything but take up valuable screen time. This isn't the worst zombie film, or video game film. It's not even close. But it is still far removed from the original, too convoluted for its own sake, and it is only getting messier by the minute. If you haven't been keeping track with this series, this is not the one to start with, as it requires extensive knowledge of the previous entries to be even a quarter of the way coherent. It's just a big dumb compilation of big dumb action sequences. Keep an eye out for an early Biohazard reference, that being the name of the game series in Japan.
It still puts garbage like 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' to shame, though.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Resident Evil: Afterlife' comes to Blu-ray from Sony in two flavors: the clear-case 3D version, or the standard blue cased 2D. The disc is a Region A/B/C BD50 Dual Layer disc, housed in a non-cut-out elite vortex eco-case. The disc has a few pre-menu trailers (Sony Make.Believe, Sony 3D, 'Takers,' 'Piranha 3D,' 'Sniper Reloaded' (shoot me), and 'Salt'), that are not skippable through the top menu button. There is a coupon included inside the case for $5 off one other Sony Blu-ray or DVD ('The Other Guys,' 'Grown Ups,' 'Eat, Pray, Love,' 'Easy A,' 'Salt,' 'The Karate Kid,' 'Justified: Season One,' or 'The Virginity Hit' (which is available and advertised as DVD only). There is no indication if this coupon will work on the Best Buy exclusive 'Salt' steelbook, but there is no verbage stating any specific version is excluded).
I have to complain about the menu for this film, as it spoils a major plot point in the final act of the film. It made me see the sequence coming a mile away, ruined plenty of suspense, and made most of the film just a big stop before "getting there." Way to go, Sony. Way to spoil your own damn film.
The 2D release of 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' is given a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 2.35:1 that is amazingly impressive, but occasionally annoyingly flawed. Clarity is amazing, with only the tiniest hint of grain ever on display, an infinitely deep picture, and enough fine detail to put the fear into viewers where the film itself fails to. Blacks are inky as all get out, whites are sharp, and not even harsh in the pure white sequences. Edges are superb, skin tones are accurate for the entirety of the program, and colors are bold and pop beautifully. The detail levels are so high that it's a double edged sword, where the duplicate Alices stand out too much, whereas digitally created people are clearly undefined, ruining a few scenes due to the distraction. How any film can put so much effort into some parts of the effects, while going the lazy way out and just quitting or calling it good enough on others, it's beyond me, but that's what it is. To be fair, this is a live action cartoon of sorts, so fake people are to be expected. While aliasing and DNR are nowhere to be found, I had a fairly large problem with the artifacting that came to life in dark sequences. Pools of black are often stunning and realistic, though other times they just look horrific and ugly, like the nastiest, most decayed zombie possible. As much as I loved the superb detail in the tiniest debris in the action sequences, this one gets a hearty recommendation that should have been the most rapturous of praise. I don't think I've ever given out a score this high and felt bad about it before.
The movie may not have a point. The video may have its flaws. But damn if the audio isn't wall to wall awesome. If you aren't impressed by this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, then you're dead to me. Maybe undead.
This one is worth more than the sum of all parts. It's an immersive experience, that pulls you into the experience so accurately and frequently that it helps the shortcomings of the film become less of a concern, as you wait for the mind-numbingly ridiculous action sequences to go above and beyond what they already have, in a film that constantly tries to raise its own bar. The soundtrack separates through the channels throughout the entire film, and despite its bravado at some points, never drowns out the rest of the goods. Of course, usually spiked soundtrack volume is accompanied by an exponential rise in the amount of firepower in use, but it all mixes together brilliantly. Dialogue is sharp and accurate, though occasionally a tad unnatural (due to some probable ADR work), despite otherwise amazing room dynamics. Rears get more movement and localization in this film, per capita, than any other film I've heard. It's damn near constant, and literally stunning. The undead horde outside the prison sequence literally fill the room with the sound of a half-a-mile wide army groaning with the hunger for fresh flesh. The film has an appropriate sense of weight, amazingly unchecked range, and one of the coolest sounding explosions in film history in the first act.
Amazing audio. Stupendous audio. Demo material, for sure. Much like the way this film was one of the biggest reasons I wanted a home 3D set up, after reading this review, I hope any homeowners without a high end surround set up realize that discs like 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' also make that a necessary splurge. This is one film experience that just cannot be told through the television speakers or an outdated last generation home theater in a box. Ever.
'Resident Evil: Afterlife' will sit comfortably as the middle shelf in this series, a film that doesn't come close to reaching the lows of 'Apocalypse,' but fails to come anywhere close to the fantastic original. It lacks a real point, and takes us from one unsatisfying tease of an ending, through a ridiculous story, to yet another unsatisfying tease of an ending. Hardly fulfilling stuff. The Blu-ray met all of my expectations, though, with solid video, superb audio, and a large heaping of extras. 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' comes recommended, and comes quite cheap for those of you who haven't yet upgraded to 3D.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.