Resident Evil. MA15+. Eight 50-minute episodes. Netflix. Three stars
What does a vegan zombie eat? Graaaiiiins!
Netflix, with its big production budget, has picked up the lucrative and ongoing zombie horror franchise Resident Evil and, with this eight-part series, given it something of a reboot.
Those earlier films - seven so far, along with the 12 video games they are based on - are set around the fictional Raccoon City, somewhere on US soil, getting overrun by zombies.
This series is set a decade or two later, as sisters Jade and Billie Wesker (played in their teens by Tamara Smart and Siena Agudong) move into a pristine neighbourhood in New Raccoon City, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Cape Town, South Africa.
The students at New Raccoon City High School, where the girls have enrolled, share urban myths about whatever happened to the citizens of that old city their new designed neighbourhood is named after.
Their dad Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) is juggling the parenting of two girls cranky about moving again for dad's work and his job with Umbrella, the company that was behind the drama at old Raccoon City.
Billie is having trouble making friends at school, and on a visit to her father's office she sees rabbits in cages being wheeled to a laboratory in the basement.
When the girls break into Umbrella to liberate what they assume are animal testing subjects, Billie is bitten by a rabid dog.
As Billie starts to exhibit some changes, Albert pleads with Umbrella heiress Evelyn Marcus (Paola Nunez) to let him research a cure, as much to save his daughter's life as to give Umbrella a marketable cash-cow product in case their zombie virus escapes again.
Filming the series in South Africa gives the production a fresh look, with the iconic mountains around Cape Town visible and giving a sense of place. The matchy-matchy neighbourhood production used as New Racoon City feels very much like the cookie-cutter suburb of Edward Scissorhands, an intentional bit of visual comedy in an otherwise serious nail-biter of a show.
The nerds of the internet, fresh from cancelling comedians for telling jokes, seem to have descended upon this series, review-bombing it into oblivion on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes.
However, this is a decent production, both in terms of high production values (some dodgy CGI aside) and in narrative and scripting.
The storyline jumps back and forth across a Riverdale-style high school mystery with the two teens uncovering the truth of their dad's shady past and the shady company he works for, and the action a decade or two later when the world has one again fallen apart. In these later scenes Jade and Billie are played by Ella Balinska and Adeline Rudolph, and for spoiler reasons I'm not unpacking the action of this later timeline here.
The writers - eight of them share credit - inventively play with storylines from the older films and games, and it's no stretch to see the whole thing is a parable about a pandemic killing off large portions of the world.
Lance Reddick is a hefty choice as Albert Wexler, so imposing, such a plausible possible villain, though one reason the nerds are up in arms is because his character was killed off in an earlier video game.
The Centennials are all going crazy for Kate Bush because they discovered Running Up That Hill from Stranger Things, and the Resident Evil producers seem to be spending up big on music rights hoping lighting will strike twice.
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