While a direct-to-video film may lack the budget, quality, and nuance of a theatrical release, merit is often found in the simplicity of the work. Productions produced for the home market typically aren’t recognized for plot ingenuity or the creativity of their dialog, but instead they focus on delivering a taut, visceral viewing experience. Although Resident Evil: Vendetta received secured a single-day cinematic showing on June 19th, in many ways it’s an archetypal straight-to-video effort- poised to please fans of both Resident’s Evil’s live-action and CG-animations.
Compared to the film’s restrained 97-minute run-time, a quarter-hour opening sequence is a surprise, helping to establish tone and cadence. The segment introduces viewers to persisting Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) agent Chris Redfield. His taciturn demeanor, as an early interaction reveals, in the result of knowing he might have to kill any acquaintance zombified by the T-Virus, putting him squarely into the strong, silent hero category.
But like the Resident Evil games, you won’t have much time to dwell on the cliched stereotypes. Within minutes, Redfield and the BSAA team infiltrate a dilapidated manor that recalls the mansion from the inaugural entry in the game franchise. And it’s hear that director Takanori Tsujimoto (Bushido Man, Hard Revenge, Milly: Bloody Battle) demonstrations the ability of CG, with exterior and interior shots of the estate that would catapulted the costs of a live-action adaptation. Instead, Tsujimoto, propels viewers down the decrepit halls and marbled floors, establishing ornate backdrops for action scenes that recall the gruesome bloodshed of Capcom’s game. Much of the fun stems from identifying the visual and aural references, from Mikami’s infamous “turning around zombie” to a familiar door squeak.
Every bit as adept as the settings is the framing of action. Often, CG-depicted fights lack the physicality of live action. But when Redfield confronts Vendetta villain, Glenn Arias, for a mano-a-mano melee outside the manor, it’s clear that care went into the sequences. From revolving camera-work for a high-speed motorcycle sequence with Leon Kennedy to a frantic firefight in hall against a throng of zombies, the movie’s set pieces deliver, admirably recreating the thrills of summer blockbusters and triple-A survival horror title. That is until a close-quarter battle in the third act stretches the limits of plausibility, with two combatant firing dozens of rounds at each other, yet each evade peril.
But like many cinematic works based on the Resident Evil franchise, momentum gets lost during scenes of exhibition. While the CG dexterously allows for the display of heated action, it’s not match for the facial expressions of a real action. So, while the motion capture is effective, Vendetta lacks emotional capture, leading to some scenes with blank-faced expression. Things are helped by a script that turns Rebecca Chambers from a resilient professor studying the A-virus into a damsel in a wedding dress, awaiting liberation. Related to the last part is one of motivations of the Arias, which will probably seem hackneyed and wholly improbable to most viewers. And save for the game’s leading cast, secondaries are largely fodder, with at least one existing for the sake of a sequel.
But critiquing some secondary points in Vendetta’s plotline can feel petty. After all, taken as an action film built around Resident Evil characters and lore, the film largely delivers. If viewers are able to overlook the heavy-handed exposition and leads who display a lack of expression, Vendetta can deliver a rollicking and enjoyable time. There are moments when the film capably captures the thrill of fighting a mob of the inflected- feat failed by most video game adaptations. For that reason, Vendetta is worth a view from Resident Evil fans or those with an insatiable hunger for the zombie genre.
Director: Takanori Tsujimoto
Writer: Makoto Fukami
Production companies: Capcom, Marza Animation Planet
Distributors: Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan, Kadokawa
Release date: June 20th (digital), Blu-ray and DVD (July 18th)
Editions: 3-disk 4K Ultra HD, 2-disk Blu-ray and DVD
MPAA Rating: “R”-Restricted