Gory nonsense, for fans eyes only.
We have entered into something of a boon time for zombies of late. The resident evil franchise has stormed back into popularity, left 4 dead has found a similar success and countless horror movies from Zack Snyder‘s 2004 Dawn of the dead remake to the slightly lighter take of Shaun of the dead have solidified the resurgence of the mindless multitude of the moaning masses in the mainstream, even in the face of the floppy haired, ripped and preening new vampire threat.
However there exists a small group of purists, who scoff at this reinvention of the zombie. They pine for a time when zombies were a shuffling, moaning menace rather than the sprinting, screeching cardio freaks of 28 days later. It is these traditionalists, and longtime fans of the resident evil games, who will derive the most pleasure from Resident Evil: Degeneration, while most others will find at best a silly gorefest and at worst a stupid, poorly acted oddity.
The movie centers around the attempts of longtime resident evil protagonists Leon S Kennedy and Claire Redfield to quell a sudden zombie outbreak at Harvardville airport (yes Harvardville) and their dealings with the latest reincarnation of the sinister Umbrella Corporation, WillPharma.
The new characters introduced in the film are forgettable, while the overarching plot is random and unsatisfying. Most of the expected resident evil tropes are fulfilled; masses of zombies in a public place; a little girl in peril; a sinister conspiracy and a climactic battle in an expansive research complex, counting down a self destruct sequence. As an exercise in fan service Degeneration clearly delivers familiar action and characters, but little of the faux scientific bio weapon mythos that underpins it’s universe.
The acting from these central characters is passable, however it seems that every other voice actor compensates for a lack of nuanced character development with either a stupendously silly accent or laughable B movie delivery. This inadequacy is personified by an oily parody of a corrupt US Senator, whose shockingly bad delivery produces more unintentional hilarity than any of the scripts halfhearted attempts at humor.
Unintentional levity is abundant throughout, whether in the form of one shot lines from background characters (“I don’t understand why you won’t let me leave!”) or in the many nonsensical plot twists. Depending on your personal stance, stilted acting and a ridiculous plot can either be frustrating or seem like a hilarious parody of late night B movies (“Being infected by being bitten, it’s like something out of a horror movie!”), and that stance may determine whether you laugh your way through the run-time or throw something in disgust.
Degeneration is entirely generated in CG in a similar style to Final Fantasy VII: The Advent Children, and considering that this is a straight to dvd release the results are respectable. Environments are detailed and effects like water or more importantly, blood, look realistic. Likewise the zombies in the film are also varied with a good degree of realism (as much as the word realism can apply to a zombie) in their movements, and crucially dismemberment is frequent and satisfying. Actors were used to motion capture for the CG models, and in this respect the film really delivers a quality experience in comparison to the abysmal script and voice-acting.
The action of the film is a real high point, there are frequent visceral confrontations, egregious uses of slow motion gunplay and an entirely indulgent free running set piece, all of which cater to the bloodthirsty viewer. The film does at times run the risk of throwing the audience into the uncanny valley with it’s overly beautiful human like avatars, and their idealised proportions. Occasionally these CGI models clearly resemble soulless shells, more reminiscent of Taiwanese news broadcasts than the product of a high quality animation studio. Regardless, the decision to use CG is a rewarding one which allows for a much better scope of action and setting, which also allows for the use of in game characters without seeming incongruous (as is usually the case in the live action resident evil films, or any other live action video game adaption).
While Degeneration manages to tick most of the expected resident evil boxes, by no means does it expand on the usually rich fiction of the games, neither does it elucidate on much backstory other than filling us in on what Leon and Claire were up to at this point in the timeline. In the end it feels like a somewhat entertaining
sidestory which will never be spoken of again. It is however a refreshing return to the heyday of the shuffling hordes of the undead, neglected by modern culture. Fans of the genre or the resident evil franchise will probably find enough to enjoy the runtime, while the typical movie fan will probably find fault around every corner. A mediocre movie which few will like and even fewer will love, but for all of it’s flaws it manages to be anything but banal.