I love Resident Evil for a lot of reasons. The survival horror, the puzzles, the atmosphere, the settings. But the plot? Rarely. Maybe never. This is a series that is dense with lore, spanning every medium imaginable, yet repeatedly fails to tell a compelling story. In the games, that's fine: you know once the ponderous cutscenes finish you'll be picking the controller up and fighting a giant tentacle monster. But in Infinite Darkness, a 4-part animated miniseries available now on Netflix, there is no game to escape into. It's a long cutscene you can't skip, and it feels like a return to the series' worst habits after RE7 and Village worked so hard to breathe new life into it.
Set in 2006 between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 5, Infinite Darkness reunites Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield—although the pair don't share much screen time, which feels like a wasted opportunity. After a hacking attempt on the White House, followed by a contained zombie outbreak, Leon is sent to investigate. Meanwhile, Claire is helping refugees as a member of the human rights agency TerraSave, and discovers evidence of bioweapon experiments in the fictional war-torn country of Penamstan. These two plot threads are linked—which is explained in detail by the many scenes of people standing around in dark rooms talking to each other.
Infinite Darkness could have been a fun zombie movie set in the Resi universe. Instead, it's a dreary self-serious political thriller with a lot of dull exposition and only a handful of scenes that feel like something you'd see in the games. Frustratingly, these moments are actually good—in particular the zombie invasion of the White House and Leon fighting a swarm of undead rats, unarmed, in a submarine. The action can be tense and exciting. But then it's back to more scenes of people talking earnestly in the shadows, overused flashbacks, and plot twists you can see a mile off.
There was a flicker of controversy last week when Netflix asked critics reviewing Infinite Darkness not to draw parallels between its story and current events. This led me to believe the series would be some kind of brutal, scathing political commentary disguised as a zombie story. But it really amounts to nothing. The idea that the US government might be involved in developing and testing bioweapons is neither interesting nor surprising. If you told me they were doing that right now, in real life, I'd believe you. Ultimately, Infinite Darkness is politically toothless, even if some elements do superficially relate to what's going on in the world today.
One of the best things about Resident Evil 7 and its sequel, Village, is how they wipe the slate clean. The series' labyrinthine, out of control mythology—which peaked in awfulness in RE6—is pushed to the side to make way for new stories. There are still connections there, but for the most part it's a fresh break. Yet Infinite Darkness feels like a step back, with a contrived conspiracy plot that ties directly into the pre-RE7 games. There's a whole new storyline, established by the last two games, to play with now—do we really need to go back? You might get a nostalgia hit seeing Leon and Claire hanging out again, but Resident Evil characters are so one-dimensional, it's not like they have any discernible chemistry or warmth between them.
I'm a Resident Evil fan, and have been for decades, and I got nothing out of Infinite Darkness. It isn't even nice to look at, with dull, lifeless art direction, unconvincing CG, and wildly inconsistent animation that ranges from good to comically bad. But hey, at least it's short. There are only four half-hour episodes here, meaning you can breeze through it in an afternoon. But I wouldn't bother, unless you're a real fiend for Resident Evil lore. There's a connection to RE5 here that is vaguely interesting, but otherwise all it does is expand on things we already knew about. Let's hope Netflix's forthcoming live action Resident Evil series is less disappointing.