ComingSoon.net reports from the South Africa set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Around Halloween-time 2015, this writer attended a night shoot to interview the cast and crew of a beloved action-horror franchise about to be laid to rest. Six movies-in and Resident Evil has exploded from a video game adaptation indirectly born out of a previous big-budget production disappointment, into a billion dollar box office earning franchise.
This month, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter will wrap it up with a bang.
Not without its contention, as rabid fans of the original games vent scorn at the movies taking its own narrative course, horror movie enthusiasts were elated when it resurrected the zombie genre in the early 2000s (a pre-The Walking Dead saturated era), surviving many obstacles across a decade and a half to become a highly-successful franchise for the filmmakers’ production company Impact Pictures, as well as Screen Gems and Capcom alike.
And here we find ourselves, with a British production team (including its writer-director), shooting a movie (which has its genesis in a Japanese-created video game) in South Africa (doubling for the USA), with a Ukrainian-born lead star, all racing to get the night shots in before the sun rises. A global phenomenon indeed!
The location is a familiar one, having been here before to cover the sequel to Resident Evil director Anderson’s Death Race remake, but this time the disused cement factory outside of Cape Town, near one of the city’s biggest informal townships, is not doubling as a grey prison, but a black, blown-out nuked Racoon City, the place where it all started for our intrepid heroine Alice, and where she comes full circle for this final confrontation with the Umbrella Corporation, the evil empire responsible for the virus that destroyed humanity.
Already on two Red Bulls for the night (sometimes three if it gets really hectic), director Anderson is excited about his job, even in the wee small hours. So what draws a Brit boy to this genre?
Paul W.S. Anderson: I love genre movies – I grew up watching them, in particular zombie movies. I was a keen teenager when all the Romero and Fulci movies came out…
Video game adaptations have proven a tricky transition to pull off successfully (from Street Fighter and Super Mario Brothers to Tomb Raider). But one of Anderson’s early directed movies was a successful transfer of legendary 16-bit beat-‘em-up video game Mortal Kombat. It was a hit and set the scene for Anderson and his Impact Pictures producer partner Jeremy Bolt to head up what is undoubtedly the most successful video game adaptation franchise to date. But the decision to make that first movie had an unconventional birth.
Jeremy Bolt: We made this movie Soldier (starring Kurt Russell) which was a complete disaster. Although we were very proud of it, Paul went a bit reclusive. I couldn’t get hold of him on the phone and I got a little concerned…
Paul W.S. Anderson: After Soldier I disappeared into my apartment for three weeks – and I think people were worried about me because I didn’t answer my phone, and I emerged after three weeks with stubble and red eyes, because I’d been playing the first three Resident Evil video games non-stop.
I played them all the way through and I said to Jeremy we have to turn this into a movie because they were so influence by films I had seen – you could see the fingerprints of Romero, Fulci and also early John Carpenter all over. And I thought it’s really primed to be turned into a movie, partly because it was very cinematic to start with, but it also got me thinking about all those movies I’ve watched and loved, because zombie movies were a big thing when I was growing up, and I felt that no one had made one in like twenty years, so I thought this was a genre that’s ripe for reinvention.
Since then zombies have pretty much become mainstream, but there have always been more layers to the Resident Evil movies, and casting Milla Jovovich in the lead as Alice has been their secret weapon. But how easy will she let go of the character and what has it meant to her?
Milla Jovovich: Every time we finish one we’re kind of done with it, so I never really expected to do more than the first film – so every time we do another it is always a pleasure and a surprise, and I’m happy and honored to be a part of the franchise. But I also don’t take it for granted. I remember doing number 4 thinking it will be so great to do another one, just because, you know the character, the story and where she’s going now is really exciting, and Paul has great ideas and fun stuff to film. So here we are 6 movies later! It’s just exciting to take it as far as we have.
And Alice is more than just an action character, being one of few female leads with lasting impact, from Alien’s Ripley to Underworld’s Selene.
Milla Jovovich: I love the fact that I’ve been able to play so many strong iconic female characters, it’s a real privilege (from The Fifth Element to Joan Of Arc) and of course Alice. 15 years ago I never thought I’d be sitting here talking about number 6 of an action franchise. It’s amazing. It’s a real part of who I am. There are a lot of facets to my personality in these movies, and a lot that is not, which is great. It’s a real character piece and a beloved character for many, and I’m glad that I was able to represent that for people, for a lot of women, young people and a lot of fans of the game, especially seeing as that my character isn’t in the video games. It’s really been amazing to do something that people have embraced so much. It’s wonderful to have my 40th birthday this year and it’s amazing to go into my 40s with so much under my belt – I have so much to be thankful for. It’s funny because I meet a lot of girls who come from very conservative homes and countries where women aren’t very respected; they come to me and say ‘I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a kid and you really pulled me through so many times in my life when I felt worthless or unloved, and I appreciate the work that you’ve done because it really made me feel that I can do anything.’
You know it kills me when I see these amazing brilliant women who have these huge insecurities about who they are because of the kind of prejudices that they’ve grown up with, and these kind of old-fashioned views of men and women. So it’s nice to be at the forefront in a sense, of letting women know that you can do anything and your strength will pull you through – I think that’s what the Resident Evil franchise has really shown, that women can command as well as any man, sometimes better (laughs).
But just how does one tie up a story which has meandered through this post-apocalyptic world for five installments?
Paul W.S. Anderson: This script has been fantastic because I got my wife (who happens to be star Milla Jovovich) pregnant and it allowed me another nine months to basically work on the screenplay. I’m very excited about the narrative twists and turns, and would relate it much more to the first movie than any other in the franchise. It’s a return to The Hive, a return to the very first film, so what you discover is that there are things that Alice was trying to do in the first movie that she thought she succeeded in but actually didn’t. So we come back, and she tries to put things right, and in a way we also tell the story of what the Umbrella Corporation has really been doing, what the truth behind the T Virus is, the truth behind a lot of the characters. So it’s really revealing a lot.
And the powers Alice gained have been diminished.
Milla Jovovich: The problem with having power is, you can become invincible, then why should people care? It was something that Paul was thinking about a lot – bringing Alice back to who she was in the first few movies where she was just a bad-ass and didn’t need these super powers. You need your main character to be a bit more human and be more relatable and to have those vulnerabilities.
But are they ready to let go, and is this really as final as the title suggests?
Jeremy Bolt: We felt creatively it was time to end it, and move on and do something else. We wanted to advise people it was the last one, because we wanted all of the fans to come knowing that they were going to get an explanation of Alice’s story. We all just felt it was time to wrap this up and do something else. I must say, I’ve got mixed feelings now because I’ve really enjoyed working in South Africa, and the film has a grittier sense to it, and closer to the first movie, ironically being the last, so there are days I’m thinking we should continue, but at the same time honestly, creatively it’s probably time to put our energy somewhere else. The sixth movie – it’s a pretty amazing innings!
Paul and Jeremy are genuinely nice guys, and don’t take this for granted, they love making movies, and love making it for people. They even took the time out to attend a special screening we arranged of the first Resident Evil at our South African HorrorFest, introducing it with a lengthy chat about the movies, taking audience questions and sitting in to watch the opening with the people.
Paul W.S. Anderson: If you’d said to me fifteen years ago I’d still be making Resident Evil movies, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you – it’s been an amazing ride making a franchise that contains six films and I’ve written and produced them all, and directed the majority of them… it’s been amazing, I feel very fortunate to be associated with that, and so it’s obviously a very bitter-sweet experience to be directing the last one. It’s great that it’s come this far, and it’s great that there’s an audience still interested in how it might end, but also having been a part of my life, and a very big part obviously, because not only have I got a successful franchise out of Resident Evil, I also acquired a wife and a family – but there’s definitely a sadness associated with finishing.
Milla Jovovich: We’ve had an amazing run and Alice is such a powerful and beautiful character who’s gone through so much hell and back again to fight for what she believes in. She’s unique and I think the franchise is unique. It’s got its fans and people that hate it more than anything. I think that’s what makes this franchise move forward: the passion – people passionately love or passionately hate it. That’s what I respond to, I love passion and I think Alice has been a huge passion for my husband and I, and for me in a lifetime. You know, forty years old, I think it’s good to kind of call it a day (laughs) – move forward.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter opens theatrically on January 26th in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D.