There’s not a lot of connective tissue between Netflix’s deceptively named 2022 television adaptation of Resident Evil and Capcom’s games. A shady pharmaceutical company named Umbrella takes centre stage, and part of the action is staged in a dystopian South African town named New Raccoon City – but so far, that’s where the comparisons begin and end. Albert Wesker, played by Lance Reddick, plays a key role – but his camp villainous vibes have been exchanged for a parenthood plot, as he struggles to balance his scientific workload with looking after his tearaway twin children, Billie and Jade.
Jade, played by both Ella Balinska and Tamara Smart in two connected timelines, is the star of the eight episode series so far. The plot segues between present day New Raccoon City in 2022 and future London in 2036, creating plenty of compelling intrigue. While apocalypse storylines are dime-a-dozen – and there doesn’t appear to be anything especially innovative here, as Umbrella puts profits before public safety – the disconnect between the clinical colours of the present day and the grimy end-of-days aftermath holds your attention well.
In its opening couple of episodes, Resident Evil feels a little like a teen drama, with Jade and Billie (Siena Agudong) establishing their roles quickly and confidently. Billie is particularly compelling as the sensitive sister, and she feels a little more layered than Jade, who plays the hard-knock teenage tearaway with Daddy issues. With the show splitting its time between the present day and the future, however, Balinska is able to bring depth to the character, and even though her scenes are predominantly reduced to action thus far, there are subtle hints that there’s more from her role to come.
Said action is pretty entertaining, to be fair. The zombies, stumbling through a post-apocalyptic London – complete with distinctive Underground iconography just to make the city’s streets feels familiar to foreigners – are largely cast as cannon fodder, although the plot hints at some kind of mutation which could make them an even greater threat to human life. One scene, which feels a little random but was clearly a big source of the show’s budget, involves a giant caterpillar-style monster – and the CGI effects are impressive.
But the show doesn’t suffocate you with set-pieces, and even in the apocalypse it leaves some room for character-led moments. One scene in the second episode sees Jade searching for a contact who can help her to reach Calais in France, and introduces a creepy “cat lady” which takes a sinister twist. There’s an earnestness to the script which allows the actors to play their roles a little tongue-in-cheek: things are f*cked up but thems the breaks, we’re afraid.
Still, it’s the present day plot that carries much of the weight in these early exchanges. The show leans into every teenage cliché imaginable: of course the twins listen to Billie Eilish and tell anyone who’ll listen about their veganism. But as the storyline unravels, it’s engaging to observe the chain of events that lead to the apocalypse – and the Weskers’ role in it. As Umbrella’s insidious side is slowly exposed, we begin to learn more about Albert, who plays the reluctant scientist seemingly indebted to the corporation due to a mystery disease that we imagine will be elaborated upon in later episodes.
It’s undeniably entertaining stuff, then – it’s got that algorithm-like binge-worthy quality to it that Netflix seems to have mastered. But it’s not Resident Evil. Yes, some of the names will be familiar to you, but that’s about all. Whether that matters to you is up for debate; the recent Welcome to Raccoon City movie was heavily inspired by the original game and failed to connect with fans, too. The bottom-line is that it’s dumb fun, and has held our attention thus far. We’ll bring you a full review of all eight episodes in the near-future.
What are your thoughts on Netflix’s Resident Evil so far? Are you enjoying this new direction for Capcom’s famous horror franchise, or do you think this series deviates deceptively from the source material? Keep your spoilers to a minimum in the comments section below.