Bioterrorism is not a rare theme in popular culture. A plethora of movies, video games, novels have delivered exciting tales of some deadly bioweapon sneakily leaking from some facility hidden in the mountains, or some young candidates of a eugenics experiment escaping their captivity, or some microbe infecting a pedestrian who becomes the inevitable hero or villain of the story; war on bioterrorism continues to be a fascinating blend of science and fantasy.
Yet despite its dumping, one franchise stands tall as the unsurpassed victor of the biological horror genre; Resident Evil.
Although the basic premise is now a trite one; a group of independent military veterans fighting against an organization hell-bent on dominating the globe, the aspect of bio-war was untapped. The Pandemic world since early 2020 knows well how brutal the socio-political consequences of a global viral infection can be. With a multitude blaming China for the outbreak, the appearance of different strains resulted in an ethnic and cultural implications of the disease; the Chinese strain, the Indian strain, the English strain, the African strain and so on and so forth.
Resident Evil has had a long history and it has delivered entertainment in videogames, in print, on the silver screen, and it has had some failures and plenty success. The story is visionary, and though I have always admired the games and the Milla movies (despite the latter’s over the top, campy, gratuitous violence), only now after graduating with a pharmaceutical science degree do I fully understand its foresight. The concept of using a virus to control the masses was back then, quite unique. Possibly its inspiration was the use of the bacteriophage, adenovirus, and the herpes simplex virus, as vectors to deliver genetic elements into host cells to produce an engineered genome. But the idea of acquiring a “remote control” to the biological systems of the infectee and by extension, the psychology, Resident Evil gave life to the idea of human beings playing god. Although artificial intelligence is a thing of the future, it was more believable because it controlled an extrinsic design, biotechnology on the other hand, maneuvers the intrinsic human design and the human body continues to be elusive. People respond differently to different Therapeutics. Post 2020, the world is a different place and people who had disparaged the franchise as a grotesque, campy, fanfare understand the wisdom behind its storytelling.
Although it is unfortunate, that Hollywood, instead of building on the mastery of the Japanese storytellers at Capcom, continues to undersell Resident Evil as a bioterrorism comedy intended for cheap thrills. Granted Capcom itself has been somewhat less generous in certain character designs; exploiting certain female characters as exaggerated presentations of the feminine form (Jill, Dimitrescu, Ada Wong sometimes), a company ultimately does keep the end goal in mind; money!
The latest installment of the Resident Evil series, Resident Evil: Village had one key feature in the archives (that one of the main characters excavates from the antagonist’s lair), and that is a letter by the then young Oswell E Spencer, the founder of Umbrella Corporation, to the immortal Mother Miranda who apparently “taught him a lot during their time together”, and he says to her “…using infection to control the masses; positively visionary”. And he was right. The single line sums up the legacy of Resident Evil.