The zombie is a celebrated creature in cinema. George Romero cultivated the Haitian legend as a cinematic device after needing a terrifying vehicle of revolution, akin to Richard Matheson’s vampires in I Am Legend, for a 1968 black and white creature feature later to be dubbed Night of the Living Dead.
Romero’s original “There’s no more room in hell” axiom, which postulated the graveyard uprisings, was a portend to a culture of massive hysteria and fear. Night of the Living Dead personified revolution and national fear in a time of political and racial upheaval.
It provided us a glimpse into a future where not even the light of day could erode the horrors of an oncoming and unstoppable wave of unbridled anarchy brought on, perhaps, by unrighteousness at our highest societal framework.
Zombies have since become one of those perennial machinations that will be packaged and repackaged and adjusted in its contextual approach based on our societal climate, much like vampires (there’s a reason most vampires are hot and young these days, it’s called MTV).
But, just like everything, evolution must occur, and the “zombie” eventually began to permeate all avenues of pop-culture, even video games.
The most successful of those permeations, Capcom’s video game series, Resident Evil, helped evolve the idea of what the zombie can be, and for that matter, where it may have came from.
It presented the zombie as a scientific manifestation, an experiment gone horribly awry, or, massively successful if you were to ask the antagonists.
It’s a fitting deviation. We are still in the midst of great change and we always will be, but the fear of revolution and riots has given way to the nightmarish strength of “shadow science”, a realm of medicinal, scientific exploration that we mere citizens have no chance of accessing let alone attaining knowledge of. Who knows what mad geniuses are cooking in laboratories in Belgium right now? Is it something to help or hurt us?
As of this writing, West Nile virus outbreaks are at alarming levels. Have the majority of us seen these “outbreaks”, or do we even know anyone with West Nile? No, but the news media says it’s true, so, “the legend becomes print”. Thus, while the indigenous '68 horrors have come and gone, the cycle of fear perseveres; merely changing tracks, still garnished with the same blood-stained pennants.
Current cinematic zombie maestro, Paul W. S. Anderson, is the latest put his stamp on his variety of zombified predecessors to Romero’s original, slow-walking soulless husks, with his adaptation of the mega-popular video game series Resident Evil, and his next installment aims to ameliorate the MacGuffin even further. (Yes, the zombie is a MacGuffin.)
But, Anderson is aiming for something different than what George Romero, and what even the Japanese producers at Capcom did with the zombie genre in decades past. A monster that was once born from fear of revolution, civil unrest, and biological terror (can you blame Japan for being scared of disease?) is becoming an agent of something else now, an agent of hope.
How can that be you ask? How can flesh-eating, mutated monsters of mayhem engage our convictions and values?
Because, we’re kicking their asses now, that’s why.
Anderson’s zombies (and make no mistake, the RE series is his) still represent a biological terror and uncertainty that we as humans will only continue to embrace, but as the murky waters of public discourse and governmental transparency become thicker with gunk, the rhetoric of fear has to have an opponent, and that opponent is Alice.
You might say, “Hey, this is a Paul W. S. Anderson film, here. This isn’t Terrence Malick.” To you, I say, sir or ma’am, you’re missing the whole point of cinema.
Cinema is a lens of society. Even a bad film can pour mountains of enlightenment into that noggin of yours, if you let it.
Now is not the time to allow fear to enwrap our hearts. It’s everywhere. It’s disease, it’s international terror, it’s microbes swarming our tap water waiting for the chance to enter our brain cavities.
Now is the time to say: to hell with that. Now’s the time to grab two guns, run up a wall, backflip-kick a mutant in the balls and say something cool like, “Two for the price of one, bitch.” (Get it? Two testicles, one kick- oh forget it. This is why I don’t write action films.)
Now my friends, is the time for Retribution. F**k fear.