"Unraveling Resident Evil: Essays on the Complex Universe of the Games and Films (Contributions to Zombie Studies)" Book Review
Edited by Nadine Farghaly
2014, 248 pages, Reference
Book released on April 15th, 2014
The Resident Evil franchise originated as a series of video games produced by Capcom in 1996. It has expanded over the better part of two decades into a wide variety of multimedia outlets, including an ongoing set of motion pictures, a collection of comic books, animated spin-offs, novelizations, plus assorted merchandising items. The central plot follows multiple characters through a myriad of nightmare scenarios involving monsters and bio-weaponry created by the fictional Umbrella Corporation. The movies introduce Alice, a new protagonist (unique to the cinematic adventures) in search of her memory and on a quest for revenge against those responsible for the zombie apocalypse.
Unraveling Resident Evil (Essays on the Complex Universe of the Games and Films) is a self explanatory collection of essays edited by Nadine Farghaly. In the introduction, she summarizes the history of the Resident Evil franchise and provides an overview first of the history of the zombie creature and then of the works included within the book. While I commend her on assembling this fine collection of extended writings on this niche topic, the content is over-written and rambling. The pieces are so verbose, they become sleep-inducingly dull. I have written college thesis papers and understand the required style and structure, but this collection is, more often than not, simply tedious. In response to the long-winded nature of these writings, I will keep my review comments brief.
The book is divided into 14 essays that alternately offer a study of either the games or the films with little crossover. There is something appealing to the idea that people are taking the standard writing themes and applying them to the works of a franchise built on killing zombies. Yes, there is more to it than that, as the authors insist, but more thought appears to have gone into these essays than many of the screenplays for the films they are covering. The papers are intricately structured by design and it takes a while to catch the rhythm for reading such material. These works, however, remain as lifeless as the antagonists in their source material. Perhaps it is the content that I grew tired of, as I have previously reviewed Richard Nowell's Blood Money, a dissertation on slasher films (a topic close to my heart) and had little trouble recommending that book.
Some of the better essays include Tanya Carinae Pell Jones' “From Necromancy to the Necrotropic: Resident Evil's Influence on the Zombie Origin Shift from Supernatural to Science”, in which she traces the origins of the zombie from Haitian voodoo slave to the social commentary of the George Romero films (Night of the Living Dead) and finally the “super science” craze of the Resident Evil movies.
Also interesting is James Stone's “'My name is Alice and I remember everything' Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Resident Evil Films”. This piece is relatively self-explanatory and while I don't necessarily agree with every point he makes here, he does draw a nice parallel between the female victim fending off a zombie horde and a seedy gang-bang.
Many of the essays set up a thoughtful premise of character psychoanalysis but fumble the execution by over-reaching when attempting to draw connections to fit a particular theory. Both Suzan E. Aiken (“The Strong Silent Type: Alice's Use of Rhetorical Silence as Feminist Strategy”) and Daniel Műller (“Survival and System in Resident Evil (2002): Remembering, Repeating and Working Through”) are guilty of forcing the point.
The least satisfying pieces contradict their own central thesis, as Hannah Priest does when attempting to draw connections to Lewis Carroll's work in "Through the Looking Glass: Interrogating the “Alice-ness” of Alice". She points out rabbits and Red Queens and names of principal characters, but ultimately dismisses the same as superficial nods at best. The bottom of the barrel time-waster of the collection is easily JL Schatz's ludicrous “Zombies, Cyborgs and Wheelchairs: The Question of Normalcy Within Diseased and Disabled Bodies”. The surprisingly lame connections drawn between the handicapped and zombies as being equally lesser than “normal” people is both insulting and offensive. Even worse, it drones on for 14 fucking pages (with notes).
Not all of the selections are home-runs and neither are they all stinkers, but they all tend to run long. Who will appreciate this book? I'm not really sure, as fans of the franchise (in whatever format) will not likely have the attention span to read the content and scholars will likely dismiss the subject matter as drivel. That being said, this book only exists because these writers incorporated their love of the franchise to the lengthy college essay format, so maybe the book is for them as an opportunity to brag about being published.