Against my better judgment I am a major een Resident Evil fan. I’ve stuck with the survival horror cum action series since the early 2000s and have followed it through its darkest,boulder-punching days. I’ve never disliked the series, even when most of the world turned its back on it – be it ridiculous or really chilling, Resident Evil has always had something for me, and it’s a joy to see the franchise growing in popularity ever since Resident Evil 7. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Capcom is having a hard time sustaining this momentum.
Netflix’s Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness Dark is Capcom’s latest attempt at on-screen adaptation for their most beloved survival horror franchise. The show is kind of a sequel to the one from 2008 Resident Evil: Degeneration, which is sandwiched in the expanded Resident Evil timeline between series baby Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, usually seen as sparking a major decline in the franchise’s acclaim. Like degeneracy, Infinite Darkness plays two of the franchise’s most notable characters: Leon S. Kennedy, a novice police officer turned U.S. federal agent, and Claire Redfield, the younger sister of Chris Redfield and a member of TerraSave, a global nonprofit humanitarian aid organization . Infinite Darkness concerns their separate journeys to uncover a White House conspiracy from an interior and exterior perspective, which, of course, eventually converge.
There are a few misleading things about Infinite Darkness off the job right away. First, the show advertises itself as a miniseries focused on Leon and Claire. In reality, it looks more like a movie divided into 4 parts. Infinite Darkness is so focused on Leon and Claire’s individual storylines that the TV-style format doesn’t do it any favors — it would have had a much cleaner presentation if it had just been cut as a movie. likewise, Infinite Darkness hardly reflects the recent grisly survival horror elements of Resident Evil Village or the recent 2 and 3 remakes. In fact, it feels like a bizarre return to the franchise just before it’s a soft reboot; it is much more of a political thriller a la Edge of Darkness (in other words, movies only your dad would want).
The show begins in Penamstan, a fictional Middle Eastern country that is a not-so-subtle stand-in for Afghanistan. Penamstan was undergoing civil war six years prior to the show’s start, which led to United States military intervention. Penamstan is still in a state of turmoil and is an important area for both the United States and China, so we are inferred from this that the United States stepping in to help rebuild Penamstan would create a ripple effect that could lead to a war with China. It seems like a huge leap, but this is just the tip of the iceberg with the awkward political themes of Infinite Darkness.
In Penamstan, Claire works on refugee relief and helps build schools to get Penamstan’s youth back on track. She meets a young boy traumatized after witnessing a group of American soldiers resuscitate into zombies and wipe out a whole procession of Penamstanis. This reminds Claire of what happened in Racoon City in Resident Evil 2, so she goes to the White House to investigate. There, Leon meets with the president and two federal agents, Jason and Shenmei, to discuss a cyber attack seemingly launched by China on the Pentagon. There is a zombie outbreak in the building and Leon rescues the president (again).
Leon, Shenmei and Jason head to Shanghai, where we soon discover that their motivations are not what they seem. Jason constantly mumbles something about “terror” and “fear”, as well as the fact that federal agents should value the country over citizens as opposed to the police (which somehow makes him a counterpart to Leon, who used to be a cop for a whole day). This further frustrates the alleged political storyline the show is attempting – they turn a valid criticism of intelligence agencies into a meme-worthy catchphrase. Somewhere in Infinite Darkness there is a glimpse of political awareness making valid points about war profits, US interference in global affairs and the moral duty of whistleblowers. This is unfortunately all obscured by slack action and both sides of Leon, which is quite a disappointing arc for a character I would have come to love otherwise.
As for the leading duo, they feel refreshingly familiar and are easily the best part of the show. Leon is back with some ironic quips (who else would say “I wish I had some cheese” before he was attacked by a squad of zombie rats?), is a delightful moral compass for an otherwise fraught series. This becomes all the more frustrating when a wedge is pushed between Claire and Leon, with Leon choosing loyalty to the government over exposing something that could probably have saved a ton of lives in the long run. The show is clearly trying to fill a gap in the state of Claire and Leon’s relationship after Resident Evil 4, but occasionally the lore comes at the cost of satisfying or logical conclusions. Claire’s motivation is always to help Penamstan how she can, but the show focuses around Penamstan, which is little more than a pawn in some mercurial war between state actors.
Despite all the disturbing elements in Infinite Darkness, it probably won’t get the kind of buzz it needs to have a real discourse around it. There’s a lot to dig here into how Americanized propaganda is even in Japanese survival horror franchises, and how China is consistently portrayed as a filthy hive of villains, but Infinite Darkness has a barrier to entry due to its heavy reliance on a pre-existing investment in the larger Resident Evil series. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky.
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness Dark is now streaming on Netflix.
Austin Jones is a writer with diverse media interests. You can chat with him about horror games, electronic music, Joanna Newsom and 80s-90s anime on Twitter @belfryfire
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