October Horrorshow: Resident Evil: Retribution, or, Story? We Don’t Need No Stinking Story!

October is here. Rejoice! For this is the best month in which to watch horror films. Summer has just died and the month ends with Halloween. The chill that has suddenly arisen in the air portends the coming cold slumber of winter...or the passing whisper of a phantom. To celebrate, Missile Test once again dedicates the month to reviewing horror films. The good, the bad, or the putrid. It doesn’t matter. If there’s blood, it gets a watch. Welcome to the fifth annual October Horrorshow. First up is a real winner.

Resident Evil is the horror franchise that just won’t die. Like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street before it, the films just keep getting worse and worse, but they make enough money to justify further sequels. The Resident Evil flicks have something those forebears did not, however: big-ass budgets. This latest entry, Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth, clocked in at around 65 million dollars. That isn’t summer blockbuster money, not this deep into the 21st century, but it’s not even close to being a shoestring budget. What the money means is director Paul W.S. Anderson, helming his third entry in the series, had enough resources to apply his developed sense of visual style to the film without having to cut too many corners.

But while Anderson has always been able to craft good-looking films (with one notable exception), he has never been able to master the art of storytelling. At some point he must have decided to focus solely on his strengths, because the slick-looking Retribution is devoid of anything resembling a coherent plot.

Picking up where Resident Evil: Afterlife left off (that is, in the middle of a massive aerial assault on a cargo ship), Anderson deftly clears this hurdle for his protagonist, Alice (Milla Jovovich), by having her knocked unconscious and being awakened in a completely different movie! Absolute brilliance. Wrote yourself into a corner? Remove the corner.

Alas, this was just a bit of misdirection, as Alice awakens, again, in a third location! But here, we’re back in the normal Resident Evil universe. Alice is half-naked and has to escape a fortified bunker run by the evil Umbrella Corporation, sole corporate survivor of a zombie apocalypse it unleashed on the world. Alice is important in the scheme of things, I guess, but it’s only tangentially explained why. If you, the reader, are having trouble following the plot, never fear. The film makes no demands that a viewer understand what is happening.

The film seems to exist for the sole purpose of showing Milla Jovovich kick ass. That’s it. Everything that happens in the film is either Jovovich kicking ass or being moved to a place where she can kick ass. There’s some peripheral stuff, but it doesn’t matter.

There’s so much ass-kicking in this film that it’s more than just Jovovich can handle. All the supporting players kick ass, too. And just like Jovovich’s Alice, they seem to exist for no other reason. Which means that, along with plot and story, character development has been jettisoned. That’s no surprise, as a good deal of the cast, although making their second or third appearances in the franchise, are doing so as clones of characters that have died, so they have literally no backstory. Other than a way to stoke fan interest by having familiar faces from the past appear, these characters are pointless.

As for the casting choices, it’s rare to see an ensemble this uniformly bad in a movie that doesn’t have the words “fast” and/or “furious” in its title. Or, to put it another way, how does a cast get worse AFTER it loses Ali Larter from one film to the next? The answer: it adds Sienna Guillory.

The single worst acting I have ever seen in a film was turned in by Robbi Morgan in the original Friday the 13th. With her performance in Retribution, Guillory has seized the crown. It was a stunningly inept performance, on par with a class of kindergarteners putting on a Christmas pageant, or the awkward openings of porn scenes. Although, I’m pretty sure Sasha Grey or Traci Lords would have been better in this movie. I will never forget how maliciously Guillory butchered the art of acting for as long as I live, unless some other brave soul surpasses her level of futility in some future project.

One of the most confounding things about Retribution, and the series as a whole, is how it continues to attract a mainstream audience. The only answer I can think of is the films’ unapologetic nature. They have never tried to be anything other than an incomprehensible rollercoaster ride. In that, Retribution may very well be the zenith of the series. All the extraneous bullshit has been excised. To go further would be to place Alice in a room for ninety minutes with a gun, a sword, about a thousand zombies, and that’s it. Retribution gets as close to this ideal as is humanly possible, I think.

This one’s a must see for those who enjoy a touch of the sublime in their shitty movie. For everyone else, stay away. Resident Evil: Retribution is a worse film that Alien: Resurrection.