No matter what he might accomplish in his career, filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson will always be known as modern cinema's “other Paul Anderson”. Pity, as the less distinguished Anderson has in the past fifteen years quietly established himself as one of the most striking visual stylists on the planet. Of course he has also become one of modern films major critical punching bags as he is deliberately guilty of two things many critics consider criminal, with those being that he loves making genre films and, in those films, the style IS the substance.
Few films from 2010 have slipped under the radar more than Anderson’s dazzling Resident Evil: Afterlife, a mind-blowing visual treat that stands as one of the most compelling and strangest major studio productions in recent memory. Afterlife took the same expected critical pounding as the rest of the Resident Evil franchise but that was inevitable as the mainstream critical community loves to attack or ignore these films. Had Afterlife been a film made outside of a recognizable franchise by a ‘respectable’ director it would have been heralded as a major trailblazing achievement.
The much maligned British born Paul W.S. Anderson kick-started his directorial career with the terrific crime-drama Shopping (1994), a film which offered Jude Law an early starring role. Anderson’s place as an action director was solidified though with his second feature, the interesting but much maligned Mortal Kombat (1995). Anderson’s position as one of modern films most interesting young talents should have been noted with his third feature, the haunting Event Horizon (1997) but few seemed to notice how visually gifted he had become within the span of just a few years.
Anderson would continue to improve and refine his very original eye as a filmmaker on the entertaining Kurt Russell sci-fi vehicle Soldier (1998) before hitting box-office paydirt with his exciting Resident Evil (2000), the wonderfully entertaining first film in one of the decade’s most successful franchises. Hampered by a particular harsh censors board that removed every drop of blood from it, Anderson’s opening chapter to the financially lucrative Resident Evil franchise was a critical disaster but immediately became a rather huge cult-film thanks to its unforgettably sleek look and the performance of the astonishing Milla Jovovich, who immediately became the premier action heroine in all of modern film. Of course the critics hated it but few films from the period managed to be as stylish and as entertaining as the first Resident Evil film and time has proven it one of the most influential films (for good and bad) of the past decade.
Anderson frustratingly stayed out of the directors chair for the first two Resident Evil sequels and instead delivered the disappointing AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004) and the terrific Death Race (2008), a remake of the Roger Corman cult-classic that operated as one of the most brutal and entertaining satires on modern audiences’ reality-show obsessed mentality as any other film in recent memory.
After two take the cash and run sequels, Resident Evil: Afterlife was expected to be a pick-up the paycheck only work from the (now married in real life) team of Anderson and Jovovich but instead it is the best of the series. From it’s audacious slow-motion and rain-soaked manga-inspired opening to its self-referential final frame, Afterlife is a truly visionary work that actively works against the hallmarks of what good-filmmaking is supposed to be and instead becomes a eye-popping piece of surreal motion art fuelled by some of the most adventurous set-pieces in recent memory and an effortlessly cool performance by Jovovich, who simply can’t be topped in this kind of film.
2010 was a particularly boring year for English-language film and Resident Evil: Afterlife was one of the few works that truly surprised me. Along with Edgar Wright’s tremendous Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Afterlife is visually the most entrancing and audacious work of 2010, with Anderson’s architectural gift for framing matched perfectly by the production design of Arvinder Grewal and the art direction of Brandt Gordon. Afterlife frankly has more imagination in its opening credit sequence than Inception has in its entire running time (and I liked Nolan’s work for the most part).
Afterlife is also graced with the best sound-design of the year by Coll Anderson, whose rumbling efforts here are worthy of an Oscar-nomination. The sound is indeed one of Resident Evil: Afterlife’s greatest assets and nowhere is this more apparent than in the career best score granted to the film by tomandandy.
The team of Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn have been one of the most consistent and interesting film composing teams in all of modern film with their work in films like Killing Zoe (1993), Waking the Dead (2000) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) showing them as fearless and innovative. They really top themselves with their work on Resident Evil: Afterlife, a brilliant score made up of Enoesque ambient soundscapes and harsh industrial pieces that sound like a dream collaboration between Killing Joke and Throbbing Gristle. The Milan soundtrack CD (and deluxe digital download) is one of the finest recordings of the year.
I think perhaps the thing I admire most about Resident Evil: Afterlife is the methodical and hypnotic pace Anderson and Editor Niven Howie give the film. Described by sluggish and dull by some fans of the franchise, I found the deliberate pacing of the film overwhelmingly refreshing. Anderson has become a supremely confident filmmaker and with Afterlife he allows us time to really soak in his great visual flair. While it has all the trademarks of a modern action thriller (from slow-motion gunfights to elaborate choreographed fight sequences) Resident Evil: Afterlife is in fact a big-budget Art-Film which owes more to Tarkovsky than Romero.
Resident Evil: Afterlife can now be seen in all of its bold glory on DVD and Blu-Ray. The discs contains a number of valuable extras, all of which highlight its striking visual style and the nervy dedication of Milla Jovovich, a great actress who finally got some needed and just acclaim for the recent Stone.
Paul W.S. Anderson thankfully doesn’t look like he is going to cater to any idea of ‘respectability’ anytime soon as his next projects are Death Race 2, The Three Musketeers and hopefully another Resident Evil film. He will, no doubt, continue to draw much disdain from critics and many film fans but Anderson, with his rejection of most 'good' movie hallmarks, has become one of the most interesting auteurs on the planet.
Resident Evil: Afterlife is his boldest and geatest achievement so far…