The Resident Evil franchise is back at the head of the survival horror table. After a few shaky sequels, Capcom resuscitated its zombie series with 2017’s back-to-basics Resident Evil 7. Two successful remakes and one wide Chris Redfield later, Hollywood is ready to give the series a second chance. Netflix currently has two different Resident Evil projects in the works, while 47 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts is working on a new film set in the Spencer Mansion that promises to be faithful to the original game.
But no adaptation of Resident Evil is complete without one key ingredient: bad acting.
Jill Sandwiches and Things of That Nature
I’m not talking about farcical performances like you’d see in a modern, self-aware horror-comedy. I’m talking about the kind of acting that makes you wonder if anyone on set has ever watched a movie before.
Questionable acting has always been a core tenet of Resident Evil, dating back to the first game in the series. Head-scratching deliveries full of alien emphasis choices launched the 1996 classic to permanent meme status. An iconic line like “you were almost a Jill sandwich” isn’t just memorable because it’s bizarre on paper; it’s elevated by the fact that Barry’s voice actor inexplicably hiccups Jill’s name through a stifled laugh, nearly breaking it into two syllables.
There’s a good reason for the game’s stilted acting. In an interview with Metro back in 2014, director Shinji Mikami took the blame for the performances, citing his own trouble understanding the game’s English voice cast.
“The actual voice recording was done in Japan, and the voice actors live in Japan,” Mikami explained. “And when they spoke the dialogue in English it was very fast so I couldn’t really follow. So I asked those actors to speak slower, so that’s what happened.”
Later games don’t fare much better. The 2002 GameCube remake even goes so far as to rewrite the script’s most infamous moments, but the voice actors still have trouble convincingly delivering tweaked lines like “A second late, you would have fit nicely into a sandwich!”
None of this is a detriment to the franchise’s legacy. In fact, it’s exactly what makes it stand out in a sea of indistinguishable zombie media. The games still contain plenty of worn tropes and genre cliches, but the strange acting brings a unique flavor, firmly placing the series into b-movie territory. For all its big picture musings on evil corporations, it’s hard to take things too seriously when the games’ casts bicker like daytime soap opera lovers.
You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry
Even with that unintentional humor, Resident Evil still delivers genuine terror. Memorable jump scares and grotesque body horror keep the games more frightening than your average low budget, meme-fueled schlock like Troll 2. The adoration for the series isn’t ironic; these are polished, competent, and legitimately scary games.
The oddball acting provides a unique form of tension relief without trying to shoehorn laughs in. Perhaps the series’ greatest strength is that it holds a confident poker face no matter what, leaving the player to question whether or not Capcom is in on the joke.
Director Paul W. S. Anderson seemed to understand this when he adapted the games into an endless string of movies (or maybe he didn’t. Again, the unclear intentions of the franchise is part of the fun). In some ways, Resident Evil: Apocalypse — which loosely follows the events of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis — delivers a suitably faithful silver screen version of the games. It’s gory, cheesy, and features actors moving around the screen with the skeletal mobility of a Lego man. Apocalypse doesn’t try to elevate or outsmart its source material. Whether it’s purposeful or not, Anderson embraces the hokeyness of the original game’s live-action cutscenes, which play out with the overconfident panache of a student film.
More Like This:
- Video Game Birds Most Likely to Prophesize Your Ironic, Untimely Demise
- Games and Great Performances with Sarah Elmaleh
- The Best Horror Movies of 2020 You Can Watch Right Now
That Feeling When Zombies Attack
The next breed of Resident Evil adaptations may not take those same cues. Johannes Roberts’ upcoming film features a more than capable cast of actors with Hollywood blockbuster experience. More telling is Roberts’ description of the project in the press announcement, which says, “With this movie, I really wanted to go back to the original first two games and re-create the terrifying visceral experience I had when I first played them whilst at the same time telling a grounded human story about a small dying American town that feels both relatable and relevant to today’s audiences.”
Resident Evil is anything but relatable. It’s a game about a team of cornball supercops stumbling into a secret government mansion full of zombies. At one point, they fight a giant snake. There are timely threads to be tugged on, but the idea of molding the game into an analogy for America’s economic crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic is questionable, if not a little grotesque.
That’s not to say it can’t be good. It just leaves one to wonder why a studio would even want to gobble up the rights to the franchise instead of snatching up a more self-serious zombie property. To faithfully adapt Resident Evil is to create a big-budget b-movie with the subtlety of a stop sign. Concealing the series’ weird and beloved edges only sets up a trap for producers hungry for the next Walking Dead; you’re bound to end up a Jill sandwich.