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Check your brain in at the door

by Kavish Chetty / 11.09.2010

I was troubled at dinner once by a middle-aged woman with pubescent streaks of blonde in her hair. She leered across the table at me, accenting her accusations in hyper-American drawl: “You just need to cut loose, man,” I was informed. She admonished me, amongst other things, for the fact that I didn’t know how to “suspend my disbelief.” I had become the recipient of this critical largesse because I told her that some horror film she was exalting for its atavistic kicks was “bullshit”. Her idea was that it required you to suspend your disbelief; kind of check in your brain and logic at the door, and then enjoy all the symptoms in stereoscopic splendour. This, accordingly, is the condition: if you want to enjoy pulp cinema (allow me the transplantation), you must will yourself into a lobotomy to do so.

My response (although fucked if it could pinprick its way into the drama of her American life, in which she was celebrity and we were all part of the banal mise-en-scene) at the time was this, and I’m reminded of it by Resident Evil: Afterlife: the best fantasy cinema doesn’t require you to will yourself into supplication of its pleasures; the best fantasy cinema will surreptitiously disrobe you of your cynicism and adulthood while you watch. The suspension of disbelief is an automatic by-product of a story well told. Into the dark forests, into the dark fortresses: the enthralled mind gives no pause for an intruding reality.

And so with that rather portly introduction, I usher you into a new theatre of nightmares. Like the most regular of nightmares, Resident Evil has fear of death (manifested heavy-handed and literally by zombies) and a slippery plot. And it’s not so much that the plot is complicated, but more that the sense that it does make is senseless itself. Like nightmares, it also feels malformed. It prologues for about seventy-five minutes worth of pleasureless violence, and then the final twenty minutes are in fact just another prologue for an inevitable sequel.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

This almost dystopian disregard for audience intelligence is why the cinema has become one of the most frightening spectacles of our time – while advertising and marketing impulses throb and pulse in our peripheral vision (you can “adblock” them out if you try hard enough), the cinema is designed to make an entertainment out of idiocy. It’s designed to make stupidity appealing. It’s designed for you to “check in your brain and logic at the door”, let the writers have their way with your moist mind, and then send you back out into the world to affect and assert your altered identity. Pardon me the melodrama – this is the condition of pulp cinema. Cultural theorists feast!

The movie itself is hardly remarkable. It segues into plangent electronic sound-scores every so often to shiver your adrenaline in its flesh-vials. Then it serves up a couple of gunshots and some tacky dialogue. The dialogue is teenage – the sort of clichés so painful that in real life they’d grind conversation to a halt. And the cast! The cast are literally flesh vessels who can bruise and bleed. Most of them die, all of them promise to possibly be killed or at least drip red for your vicarious enjoyment. At one point, Milla Jovovich teases that she’s going to shower: she removes her samurai blades and gun holsters behind the veil of steam rising from the bathroom floor. My sagging eyelids suddenly sprung up (I’ll pretend my eyebrows were curved in amusement). But then – no! – more zombies, more gunshots. I’ve seen more inventive tortures of the body in other action films, and I’ve experienced more inventive tortures of the spirit too.

I see the place of cinema like this in a world like this. I’m no idealist; it certainly has its place alongside all the other guilty rites of 21st century young adulthood. But of a bad bunch, this is certainly the most boring, unimaginative, psychically hurtful bullshit I’ve had to put up with. In summary, do not see this film.

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