Deep beneath Raccoon City lies the Hive, a genetic research facility owned by the Umbrella Corporation. A thief steals the genetically engineered T-virus and contaminates the hive. The artificial intelligence in charge, the Red Queen (Michaela Dicker) seals the Hive and kills everyone inside. Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakens with no memory in the bathroom of a deserted mansion. She dresses and checks out the area, but is attacked by Matt Addison (Eric Mabius), a cop from Raccoon City, just as a group of commandos led by James Shade (Colin Salmon), also known as “One” breaks in. Matt and Alice are sent down into the Hive with the commandos, where they find Spence Davis (James Purefoy) hidden in their train-car. He also has no memory. The commandos tell them that everyone but Matt are working for the Umbrella Corporation. Alice and Spence were assigned to guard the Hive’s secret entrance, posing as husband and wife.
At the Red Queen’s chamber, a diabolical laser defense grid slices up Shade and three more commandos. The Red Queen warns them all to leave, but Chad Kaplan (Martin Crewes) disables the computer, causing all the doors in the Hive to open, releasing all the zombies and containment units of similar creatures, like the Lickers, created by the corporation. The humans are attacked by them and J.D. Salinas (Pasquale Aleardi) dies. Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) retreats with Kaplan and Spence, and Matt is separated from Alice, whose memory is beginning to return.
Matt searches for information about his sister Lisa (Heike Makatsch) and finds that she is a Zombie. Alice saves him, and Matt explains that he and Lisa were environmentalists and Lisa infiltrated the Hive to smuggle out evidence of illegal experiments. Alice remembers her but does not tell Matt. Everyone gathers at the Red Queen’s chamber, where the commandos mention that they have one hour before they will be trapped permanently inside. Alice and Kaplan activate the Red Queen and rig a remote shutdown to force her to cooperate.
As they make their escape through the maintenance tunnels, they are attacked by zombies and a reanimated J.D. bites Rain before she can shoot him. They reach safety except for Kaplan, who is bitten and separated from the team. There is antivirus in the laboratory, Alice now remembers, but it is missing. Spence was the thief who originally stole and released the T-virus. He hid the antivirus on the train. He turns against the others but is killed by a Licker and the team is trapped in the lab. The Red Queen offers to spare Alice and Matt if they will kill Rain, who has probably been infected too long for the antivirus to help her. The power goes off and they learn that Kaplan shut down the Red Queen to open the door. They head for the train; Alice gets the antivirus and kills the reanimated Spence.
On the train, they inject Rain and Kaplan with the antivirus. A Licker hiding on the train claws Matt and kills Kaplan and is subdued by Alice. Rain has turned and attacks Matt. He shoots her and her head hits a button, ejecting the Licker under the train. At the mansion, Matt’s wound mutates. The mansion doors burst open and they are seized by Umbrella scientists. Alice is subdued, Matt is taken away to be put in the Nemesis program, and the Hive will be reopened for an investigation. Alice awakes in the Raccoon City hospital and escapes to find the city in apocalyptic ruins. She finds a shotgun and heads out.
The film was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the first of what became a series of seven films starring Milla Jovovich, based on the Resident Evil video games. It was lambasted by critics but made a lot of money. On Rotten Tomatoes, it got 35% favorable by critics, but 65% by viewers. It has the faults of video games, as it is basically only a movable shoot-em-up, but as it evolved through the sequels it examined many facets of the zombie sub-genre and in my opinion stood out from the video-game pack. In the beginning, George A. Romero wrote five or six drafts of a script, but they were rejected by the head of Constantin Film Bernd Eichinger because they would all have received an NC-17 rating. Paul W.S. Anderson’s low budget film Mortal Kombat had been quite successful and he was announced as director and writer.
Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was supposed to star as Alice but there was too much nudity for her, and David Boreanaz was to be the male lead but he was busy with the Angel series. Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, fortunately, were snapped up early. The music was by Marco Beltrani and Marilyn Manson. Dancers were hired to play Zombies because they could twist their bodies into inhuman shapes. Sony Screen Gems released it in the States and Pathé and FilmFour in the U.K. James Cameron called it a guilty pleasure. He particularly liked the feral way Michelle Rodriguez moved. She was brought back in later movies.
Milla Jovovich came to everyone’s attention in the nude at the age of 15 in Return to the Blue Lagoon, and then as the wonderful Leeloo in The Fifth Element. She later starred in Ultraviolet. She did all her own stunts in Resident Evil, and trained three months to perfect one scene in which she runs up a wall and kicks a zombie in the head. Her cuts and bruises were not makeup, they were real. She injured three cast and crew members in her enthusiasm. She did much of her speaking part over again in a lower timbre of voice because she was not satisfied. It was Jovovich who convinced director Anderson to change Alice from a damsel in distress to a kick-ass babe, and that made a hell of a difference. She and Anderson met on the set and were married in 2009. Later, she kicked alien dragon ass in Monster Hunter.
The film was shot in Germany and much of it was filmed in unfinished Berlin subways. The actors were all given a week of real commando training. Scenes were changed many times and some were used for later movies. The zombie makeup on the dogs was made of meat and blood and unfortunately had to be reapplied constantly because the dogs thought it was delicious. The whole cast did the last scene drunk because they had already had the wrap party. The word zombie was never spoken. A character named Alice going up against a character named the Red Queen was a nice touch. The entrance to the Hive is a mirror, the T-virus was tested on a white rabbit, Alice’s floor is a checkerboard, there is an Alice in Wonderland paperweight in one scene, and the Red Queen cuts off a lot of heads.