Resident Evil is a family affair for writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (Soldier, Mortal Kombat) and the franchise’s star Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element). The combo met on the first zombie apocalypse/corporate distrust adaptation of the popular video game that became the 2002 film. They’ve since married, had two children and over the course of five movies made the biggest video game movie franchise—that now co-stars their oldest daughter as the manifested villain of the whole franchise: The Red Queen. Talk about coming full circle.
We went to South Africa with a small hive of journalists to visit the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. In addition to enjoying the Cape Town location ourselves, we saw the deserted location that Anderson chose to represent the outskirts of Raccoon City, the headquarters of the evil Umbrella corporation that created and released an apocalyptic virus. Anderson has gone a step further in writing and directing the film that will close their enterprise and decided to take Alice (Jovovich) and her band of survivors on a trek back to where it all began: inside The Hive. But Anderson also told us on set that he wanted to get back to the tone of the original film. What does that look like? Real locations, more practical effects and for Anderson, a return to 2D cameras to get into tighter and more claustrophobic spaces.
Our full set roundtable discussion is below. You can find the rest of our set visit interviews by clicking here.
Question: What draws you to this action-horror genre?
PAUL W.S. ANDERSON: I love genre movies. I grew up watching them. In particular, zombie movies. I was a teenager, I think, when all the (George A.) Romero movies came out. And I was a big fan of them and of Lucio Fulci’s. Then when I played the Resident Evil video game, I had just done this movie Soldier and then I disappeared into my apartment for literally three weeks. I think people were worried about me because I didn’t answer my phone, no one had seen me, and I emerged after three weeks with stubble and red eyes because I’d been playing the first three video games nonstop. And I said to (producer) Jeremy [Bolt], “We have to turn these video games into a movie,” because they were so influenced by films that I had seen. I could see the fingerprints of Romero and Fulci and also early John Carpenter, like Resident Evil 2 is very John Carpenter. It’s very Assault on Precinct 13. The music is quite similar, the location is quite similar. And I thought, you know, it’s really primed to turn into a movie. Partly because it was very cinematic to start with. But also because it got me thinking about all those movies that I had seen and loved, and I felt like no one had made a zombie film in like 20 years, around the time we were starting with the first one. So I thought it was a genre ready for reinvention.
Can you talk about your screenwriting process for this? Tying up the story but also introducing new characters and making it standalone.
ANDERSON: This script in particular has been fantastic because I got my wife (Milla Jovovich) pregnant, and it allowed me another nine months to work on the screenplay. [laughs] I feel like I’ve put more work in this screenplay, I think I’d have to go back to the first Resident Evil to feel a similar way. And for the same reason. When we made the first film, no one was expecting it, no one really wanted it, there wasn’t an expectation, there wasn’t a release date for it. When we were making it, we didn’t even have an American deal from it, it wasn’t financed with American money. The whole movie was shot in Europe. We only did a deal with Sony towards the last shooting days of the movie. They didn’t see it until the first test screening in Burbank. And they had the rights, according to the contract, that they could put the movie straight to DVD if it didn’t score a certain threshold with the audience. So that was hugely stressful. It went from really stressful to really good about five minutes in when people started cheering.
The elevator scene?
ANDERSON: Yeah. Because it was very quiet before that. You can never tell if audiences are silent because they hate the movie or they love the movie. You can’t tell, whether they’re building up their contempt and they’re going to explode in rage and throw bottles at the screen, or if they really liked it. And they really liked it. And there’s that elevator scene where you think you see the woman’s head get chopped off, but you don’t, and then it cuts to black. And I had all the Sony top brass sitting behind me. And there was a guy in the row in front of me and he stood up and he went, “I love this movie!” and the whole audience cheered. And I turned around at the Sony people, and you could see the dollar signs in their eyes, they were like, “This is going to work!” And, so it was a wonderful screening because of that. I think about three minutes later in the scene where Milla wakes up in the shower and they went, “a nipple!” [laughs] And then the whole audience cheered again. And pretty much from there until the end of the movie. I’ve always seen myself as a populist filmmaker, I really like making movies for audiences. And I’d built a movie that was like, would get that kind of audience response. It was a wonderful screening because it did. Every moment you hoped you’d get a jump or a laugh, you did. And thank God as well, because otherwise we would have gone straight to DVD and there never would have been a franchise.
So what kind of movie are you building here, in terms of bringing it full circle?
ANDERSON: It’s a return to the hive and a return to the very first film. What you discover is there are things that Milla was trying to do in the first movie that she thought she succeeded in and she actually didn’t. So you get back to the first film, the location of the first film, and she tries to put things right and do what she should have done right at the very beginning. And we also, in a way, tell the story of what the Umbrella corporation has really been doing, what the truth behind the T-virus is, what the truth behind some of the characters are. So it’s really revealing a lot, I mean, some of the movies have been deliberately designed as very simple run and gun, almost like chase movies. There’s been a lot of action, a lot of horror, this is more kind of—well, it’s still got a lot of action in it, and horror, but it’s more narrative based. There’s more story in it than any of the other movies. Quite a complex story that I think the fans will enjoy. Things that will make you want to go back and see the first movie again, and maybe watch the whole franchise again. And that’s why I’m glad I got the extra nine months to work on it. I think the screenplay is a lot better than the version we would have shot nine months ago.
But have you always had the answers in your head and now you’re telling them, or did you know you were telling the last chapter and you had to answer the questions?
ANDERSON: A lot of the answers I knew. I had it in my mind that it was the overall concept. A lot of the fine detail, obviously, was done in the writing. I wanted to bring everything to a close. A lot of the revelations are the things I’ve known about for years.
When did you decide?
ANDERSON: It was when we did Afterlife. I said I’d done a trilogy of movies and I wanted to do another trilogy in 3D because I was fascinated with 3D and excited about it. Whereas for the first three, I definitely had a structure, and I had a structure worked out for these. Box office wise, I hoped that I would be able to do that, because unless you have good box office you can’t, because no one wants you to. But at that point, when we started making Afterlife, I knew I wanted to make three movies and bring it back around.
And was Sony up for that?
What is your stylistic approach this time around?
ANDERSON: It’s very different. Because, like I said, I love 3D. I really do. I’ve shot the last four movies I’ve made native 3D, so I’ve probably shot more 3D than any other director. And I do like shooting in 3D but it is constricting in certain ways, as you know. The cameras are very big because each camera is two cameras, they have to have an on-board computer. You end up hanging them from a technocrane and moving them along a dolly. You can’t get them into tight spaces. So it forces you into a kind of shooting that I have become tired of. I wanted this movie to be a lot more gritty and down and dirty, and still spectacular, but I thought more terrifying and realistic than the last film. But, I think you can make a great movie like that. Most people don’t, in my opinion, they shoot a great 2D movie but not a great 3D movie. I’ve got the whole cast from my 3D movies on this one, so Glen McPherson is still doing lighting, I’ve still got the same second unit DP, it’s all the same people on board. So everyone is shooting a film they know is going to be transformed to 3D. But because the cameras are smaller, I can get them into more, tight, claustrophobic, real spaces. And that’s why we’re in South Africa as well, because I love the locations here and I wanted the movie to be a more location-driven film as opposed to all on sets. Again, with the size of the size of the 3D cameras and the technology you have to take with them, it’s much easier to get them into a studio rather than out on location.