Neil Bahadur’s review published on Letterboxd:
"The trinity of bitches."
"They say history is written by the victors. This then, is the history of the Umbrella Corporation."
This doesn't initially seem like it has the remarkable formal cohesion of the last four of Anderson's works, and to an extent it doesn't quite reach those heights. But as Nick Pinkerton mentioned prior to the films release, this film is a 'different beast,' - in interviews just before the films release Anderson mentioned that his intentions were to make the film more 'realistic' in comparison to it's prior two instalments. Yet the work remains stylized - this stylization now manifests in a primacy of montage over composition, choosing illustration of Alice's psychological state and reactions over grander thematic statements within the specificity of a sequence. If the film doesn't quite measure up to Retribution, in my opinion, one of the reasons is perhaps that this decision results in there being a considerable distance between form and content - and it was the lack of that distance which made Retribution such an astonishing feat in its conceptualization. We go from the world as re-creation to the world as rubble - yet these themes of simulation resurface here as well, but in different ways. And it's 'end of the world' narrative on a surface level resembles Pompeii's, but it's actually the films decision to drive toward grander emotional involvement which makes it resemble PWSA's previous film. But gone is the dystopic simulation world - there is physicality here, everything is 'real', Wesker/Issac's hideout is no longer the clean whiteness of a locale which we are uncertain of its concreteness, but a darkened, baroque space littered with chandeliers and drinks - reminders of the classical questions of class. But in comparison this method of expression is rather..conventional? Yet in this more perhaps conventional structure there are the most compelling 'story' elements of the series, and certain themes which were only barely touched on before are given a fuller expression now.
The first third of the film (that is, everything prior to Alice's reunion with Claire) are only interesting thematically in it's images of a totally decimated Washington DC - a White House and Senate Hall nearly burnt to the ground, a savaged Lincoln memorial. Yet these all remain somewhat standard post-apocalypse/sci-fi tropes - why they remain striking is because of PWSA's contextualization within the plot of the villians/connection to the Umbrella Corporation: a post-apocalyptic world is also a post-capitalist one. But this is where the thematic elements seem to dissipate temporarily - we're mostly treated to a series of action sequences while we won't get anymore serious, contextualizing information until we reach the Hive, minus some glimpses and tiny bits of dialogue. This however, lets the montage shine in ways that might be obscured by clearer thematic contextualization. On initial viewing, the speed of the editing combined with the 3D leant an urgency to the montage where although I could not follow the geography, the images retained an almost primal quality upon which I found myself sucked into the form without any critical distance whatsoever - I found this thrilling. But on my second and third viewings I found that it is actually quite easy to follow the visual trajectory of a sequence: the geography is in fact all there.....it just moves really, really fast. I'll use the car/flying monster thing set-piece as an example: Anderson/White's cutting style is one where we follow a repeating series of Alice's mental, followed by physical activities: thought - decision - action - reaction. This is in-line with the movies narrative elements: Alice being given a timer by the Red Queen. No time for levels when in a desperate attempt to save the world! It's one big race to the finish line. This structure is considerably at odds with the PWSA of the past - it's the opposite of something like The Three Musketeers, where the viewer learns the films thematic and narrative elements by recognizing through-lines of individual character motivations. In this sense, it's perhaps the 'dumbest' film PWSA has made in some time, but there's no time for mental acrobatics when in a desperate attempt to save the world! And 'dumbest' is probably the wrong word - because this films strengths are almost wholeheartedly through what is communicated through this montage. Still, we're given formal acrobatics for sometime as well: Alice taking out four or five Umbrella operatives is shot and edited in a way that incorporates Alice's wide-shots of her spiral movements and POV ones of the same, providing a sensation in circular movement (this is the only sequence of the film which reminded me of the more 'graceful' set-pieces of the last several films).
I have to say, this montage which seems so divisive to most of the films viewers appears to me to be some of the most thrilling editing I've seen in contemporary cinema, both in narrative and non-narrative formats. Only bits and threads of any contextualizing material, but the free hand Anderson appears to give to Doobie White here almost approaches avant-garde editing at times, I think primarily of the repetition of actions through several shots, serving no purpose but to provide a rhythm of sensations. I once used the term "totality of form" to describe Jacques Tourneur's Appointment in Honduras, and perhaps this film doesn't reach the heights of that in what I was trying to express (perhaps because Tourneur is still expressing thematic elements within this totality!) but I like to think that this term is applicable here as well, if not quite to that extent. In PWSA interviews he often points out some movie he's seen recently that really inspired him or whatever - this time it seems like it was Mad Max Fury Road, particularly in the device on unending forward momentum. But there's something rougher here, and it's not just that Anderson could care less whether he's respected or not.... Both films move their action through shots and cuts that are wholly functional, avoiding poetic display (with one exception in the former), while RE6 replaces this occasional display with aforementioned repetition. And again - I do find it mildly disappointing that formal and thematic elements are not intertwined, but it is consistently striking for this repetition to finally lead to a real 'style-for-style's sake' within Anderson, wholly rejecting theme for moments which become then a clarity in sensation.
It's not until we get to the clone of Ian Glen's Issacs that we get an inkling of what this film is really up to - "You've been most troublesome to me...you and your 'sisters,' before revealing the heads of several women. In another recent interview, Anderson very proudly stated that the original Resident Evil was made at a time where female action protagonists were almost unheard of (to be fair the first Tomb Raider adaptation was released the year before, ALTHOUGH the release of RE1 was actually pushed back into 2002 because of 9/11 and the ending of that film) and this is the first time in the franchise where this aspect of female heroes (or rather, the iconography of female action heroes) seems to be pushed to the forefront. But it's still quite a ways until this continues to be developed - it's not really approached again until the last 20 or so minutes of the film! There are echoes of previous Anderson works - again of Pompeii - where a woman is used by Issacs/the Corperation as a mind-game for Alice ("Release the bait!") only to be killed for show - taking advantage of Alice's compassion for humans while she opens the gate. As in Pompeii, a persons fingers can be cut off, while their captor states "He can be mended." Anderson believes there is no difference between a capitalist society and a feudal one, and his great nightmare is that both treat humans as material.
Issac's is the traditional capitalist villain with one minor difference - he's a very clearly right-wing one. And not in his Old Testament thumping, but in a specific line stated in the "flashback" sequence mid-way through the film: "..fundamentalist states which call for our destruction." So when Issacs' states "I propose that we end the world...but on our terms." This is not necessarily a grab for power, but a preservation of power. He reminds me a bit of Steve Bannon, who appears to believe inciting a war is the only fast solution to exit an economic recession. 'Ending the world on our terms,' serves both purposes - an apocalypse to ostensibly escape an agricultural collapse, and this preservation of power - the same way Bannon's pushing for WWIII ensures that America remains a global superpower/imperialist force: acts of supremacy to mask insecurity, economic and otherwise. When the real Issacs' is awakened, his first question is, "Is it done? The cleansing process is complete?"
This becomes very interesting in the films later moments, where the movie finally becomes able to expand on its central ideas within its formal construct. As mentioned before, Issacs' is a Old Testament thumper, so it comes as no surprise when it's revealed that he has constructed what Alice terms as, "Noah's Ark for the rich and powerful." And Issacs himself refers to Alice as "the prodigal daughter." This is an unusual move for PWSA - making Biblical references in his films - and I'm still uncertain if I fully buy it..but this is fascinating within the aforementioned "trinity of bitches" - Alicia, Alice and The Red Queen in this effect form the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Ghost (kudos to Sean Gilman for pointing this out in his piece) in opposition to Issacs individualist patriarchalism. Combined with the survival of Claire, this takes on a unique result where Issacs is literally the only man left standing in a room otherwise filled with women. Wesker is crushed, the other male figure turns out to be a kind of Judas - this character is fascinating in that he has to manipulate Claire's romantic feelings in order to appear on their side. Both sides have their moles - this was more striking on multiple viewings and almost resembled the PWSA of old, particularly knowing that the male character was also a traitor. So now it seems we see an intersectional portrait of a capitalism that is hetero-patriarchal!
When Alice finally (seems to) defeat Issacs, the elevator like contraption she rides to get back above-ground is littered with a cascade of haloes, as though Alice is ascending towards the heavens. There's a considerable amount left to write about on the action sequences, (particularly the fight scene within the 'Noah's Ark,' the ballet of movement within the laser room) but the thematic bits and pieces are still significant enough - one of the most interesting uses of zombie madness is that Anderson's perception of it mimics the 'me-first,' trickle-down the line nature of capitalism. Granted, I admit these days critiques/examinations of capitalism are becoming a bit basic (and this is true here as well) - we should be critiquing and dismantling the democratic systems which protect capitalism rather than the value itself - this line of inquiry has always been interesting with PWSA. For example, clone Issac's hand being eaten by the zombies as though nothing - in the post-apocalypse/capitalist nightmare even flesh is fuel. Issacs is eventually killed by his own clone, ("turning the lie into truth") before being killed by his own army of zombies, willing to devour anything to continue its existence. But Alice's position here is quite moving - as she too is a clone, in-authentic. Yet humanity is saved/preserved by the artificial! It's perhaps an inverse of the Alice/daughter relationship from Retribution - there the life of something which was not even real was still worthwhile, now the non-real has to decide whether the 'real' is worth preserving! It's an interesting way to end the franchise given PWSA's cinematic relationship towards artifice. The end of the film is in-essence Paul W.S. Anderson's Pinocchio - the artificial becomes truth. "We had to know if you were willing to make the sacrifice to give up your life for others." Is this the only determining factor between real and artificial?
I'm tuckered out! More next time, when the blu-ray drops!