The same is true for Resident Evil, which Netflix has adapted for long-form television. This is the story about a pandemic that ravages the world and drastically reduces the sane and living population — and that makes it feel a little too real. The dystopian setting naturally lends itself to the horror genre, but it’s less traditional jump scare-focused horror and more along the lines of something you could genuinely see happening; perhaps not to this extreme, but it’s all become much more tangible after the events of the last two years. It’s more relatable, and therefore scarier.
The series’ release proximity with Sony’s Welcome to Raccoon City (which released last year) does give me a slight familiarity with the overall arc of the story, but for all intents and purposes Netflix’s Resident Evil is a hard reset, wiping away all previous lore that has been put to film. Instead of being set before or after the virus-induced apocalypse, the Netflix series splits its time both before and after the world-ending events, clueing us in on the true nature of what’s going on in a slow-burn fashion.
Our protagonist is Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska), who is struggling to survive in a world filled with cannibalistic mutant zombies, known as “zeroes” to the characters. She’s trying to make her way from England to France, but the belligerent Umbrella Corporation is on her tail, intent on capturing her. This is depicted in conjunction with a flashback storyline, taking place fourteen years earlier. The younger Jade (Tamara Smart) and her half-twin sister Billie (Siena Agudong), after moving to the Umbrella community New Raccoon City in South Africa, seek to unmask the corporation’s use of a dangerous bioweapon — the T-Virus.
Lance Reddick is perhaps the most recognizable name in the cast. He plays Albert Wesker, Jade and Billie’s father, who is recruited back to Umbrella in an executive position. Reddick strikes the perfect balance of being a caring father and a man with a dark secret, with his performance range as proof that he can play both sides astonishingly well.
There’s a lot to set up at the start, but all of that is confined to the pilot episode. There’s enough potential to invoke intrigue and an admirable level of diversity, but the season opener is filled with the classic beats we’ve no doubt tired of by now: a shady, sinister corporation, a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters, and seemingly unbreakable family bonds. Slowly but surely, the rest of the season branches out, giving us a world in which Umbrella has gone from a government-funded pharmaceutical company to judge, jury and executioner, killing anyone who even remotely gets in their way.
The stakes come from our lack of knowledge about how each timeline plays out — though each provides clues for the outcome of the other. It’s a mystery above anything else, and that’s refreshing when it comes to a franchise long since dictated by convoluted, and occasionally scary, action. Showrunner Andrew Dabb interprets the Resident Evil franchise as one about hope and humanity. “[It was] never about the evil,” he said, “[it was] about the people brave enough to fight it.” His perspective is a valuable addition to a nearly thirty-year-old multimedia franchise, and Netflix’s Resident Evil series proves that there’s still life in it yet.
Resident Evil premieres July 14 on Netflix. More information can be found here.