Meet 'Jane Goodall for zombies': Resident Evil sets up puzzle box mystery in 8 new photos
There are certain elements that have come to define the Resident Evil video games. Horror, of course. Sometimes absurdist horror. Andrew Dabb, the showrunner who's using these games as inspiration for his upcoming live-action Netflix series, rattles off some of what makes them so over the top: "People have lost limbs and come back. I think everybody's been cloned at this point, but some of that is just crazy fun."
Underneath that level of debauchery is always some kind of puzzle box mystery to solve. That is also true of Resident Evil, the live-action series. Dabb hopes the show, coming to Netflix this July 14, feels like they took "all the games and shuffled them together." Sure, it will be "aggressively R-rated" at times, he promises, but there's a compelling jigsaw mystery stitched together over two timelines. And it starts with Jade Wesker.
Ahead of the latest Resident Evil trailer reveal, coming this Monday during Netflix's Geeked Week events, EW got our hands on eight exclusive photos.
Dabb and his writers' room didn't set out to adapt one Resident Evil game specifically. Instead, they treated the events and mythology of all the games as if they were the backstory for their show to launch a brand new story for the franchise. That story kicks off with the introduction of a fresh-faced heroine: Charlie's Angels star Ella Balinska as the daughter of Albert Wesker.
As an adult, Jade is operating out of London in the year 2036, 14 years after a global pandemic — caused by the dangerous T-virus — transformed the infected into monsters. It's a time when humanity has reached "a tense stasis with the zombie apocalypse," Dabb tells EW. "They've managed to carve out some civilization. People have lives. They may not be the lives they had before. In fact, I can guarantee they are not."
In the first episode, directed by Bronwen Hughes, Jade is someone very much haunted by her past. She has a husband, Arj (Ahad Raza Mir), back home with their child, but she's consumed with the idea that she can somehow make things right. "What popped into my head really early on was she's like Jane Goodall for zombies," Dabb says. "She's studying them. She's trying to learn how they operate. This is a new organism. Our zombies are not the risen dead. They're infected by a virus. All of us have had a crash course in viruses the last few years. This virus changes. It evolves and it has its own agenda."
Using a mix of author Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us and the film Children of Men, production designer James Foster envisioned a futuristic version of London overrun by nature as humanity's imprint has essentially vanished. Threats now include hordes of infected and also the occasional kaiju-sized mutant caterpillar.
So, how did humanity get to this point? Well, that's part of the puzzle Dabb is talking about. Resident Evil feels like two distinct, yet complementary shows sewn together. One takes place in the 2036 setting, and the other goes back to the year 2022, when a young Jade (played by Tamara Smart), moves to New Raccoon City in South Africa with sister Billie (Siena Agudong) and father Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick).
For those keeping track of where we are at this point in the timeline of the Resident Evil games, this is around when the events of the latest entry, Resident Evil: Village, occur. Dabb sets the stage: "We are now essentially 20-plus years from the first Raccoon City. Everyone knows it was destroyed in a very tragic incident, but very few people know exactly what happened, which makes sense, given that it was a bit of a cover-up in the U.S. government."
The nefarious Umbrella Corporation, the one that experimented with the T-virus and bioterrorism that created the zombified monsters in the first place, has now been reinvented by the new CEO, Evelyn Marcus (Paola Nuñez), daughter of Umbrella founder and virologist James Marcus. She's not a character that exists in the games, though Dabb notes, "There are some hints that she could, if you dig deep enough."
Since the bioweapon track didn't work out in Umbrella's favor, Evelyn has shifted their focus to consumer products, specifically a drug called Joy. This miracle med is designed to cure various forms of mental ailments, from depression to OCD. But patients should read the fine print, because the T-virus is included in the side effects. Dabb says one shouldn't assume that Joy is the sole cause of the zombie outbreak that takes hold of the globe. It's just one piece of the puzzle. "As we'll talk about in the show, you'd have to take a lot of Joy to become a zombie. A lot," he remarks. "But whenever you're messing with the T-virus, it usually never goes well."
Other jigsaw pieces include the presence of Wesker, who died during the events of the game. (Dabb previously teased how that plays into the show.) Jade and Billie, clearly, also have something to do with it. Past trailers have shown that Wesker keeps vials of their blood in his lab. For what purpose? Dabb cannot say yet.
This younger version of Jade feels almost like a different character than the woman she's forced to become in just 14 years time. Yet viewers will ultimately sense echoes in Balinska and Smart's performances as Resident Evil cuts back and forth in time to unfold its story. Smart would come to set on her days off early on in production to take note of Balinska's work, and vice versa.
"Young Jade is young," Dabb says. "Jade is snarky and snappy, but at the same time, deep down, she is a person that takes things very seriously in a crisis. Because of how she was brought up, she put up a lot of walls. Jade is someone who walks around in a suit of armor."
Before these sisters become embroiled in the horrors of Umbrella, they face the horrors of high school in New Raccoon City. As the newcomers in town, they're placed with other teens, like Simon (Connor Gosatti), whose parents are Umbrella lifers. Simon has lived in Umbrella housing his whole life without any knowledge of the company's true nature, but as soon as he gets a whiff of the goings on, he joins Jade and Billie in getting to the bottom of it.
Unlike Jade, Billie is more vulnerable to the perils of teen social life. "You've got a character who is really caring and maybe a little less forthright than her sister, but also someone that's struggling with some of her own demons. This is a character that cares deeply about people and about animals. She's someone who is vegan and someone who supports PETA. She's the kind of person who doesn't step on an ant. She takes it outside."
One photo from Resident Evil shows Billie interacting with a caterpillar. Is this the same caterpillar that later becomes the gargantuan caterpillar attacking Jade in 2036? Dabb says it could be, but it at least is meant to be a fun visual link between both timelines.
"The hope is they build, one off the other," Dabb explains of the two settings. "The idea is you'll see things in the future story line. You're like, 'Wait! How did that happen?' And then that episode, or a couple of episodes later, you'll get the answer. In some ways, the future story line itself is a mystery. How did people get here? How did these relationships change? And it's all explained, but it's explained in a way that we've jigsawed it together. If you're watching it, you'll be able to see how all the threads start to weave together as we move through the story."
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