A back­woods hor­ror more re­volt­ing than thrilling

The Washington Post Sunday - - DIVERSIONS - Style@wash­post.com

“There’s no es­cape, city boy,” says the mad woman crawl­ing spi­der­like in front of you. Her line re­flects “Res­i­dent Evil 7’s” dopey kind of back­woods hor­ror. Both you and she know that from her per­spec­tive you’re an in­ter­loper, a city slicker who looks down on her and her kin. Af­ter all, the woman, with her in­sect­like mo­tions, is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what it means to be a pariah who has fallen out­side the bounds of hu­man so­ci­ety. For much of its length, the game toys with some of the most ob­vi­ous class di­vi­sions in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety — ru­ral vs. ur­ban — by plac­ing play­ers in the shoes of an un­flap­pable guy forced to run around the house of a fam­ily whose sta­tus has plum­meted to the lev­els of the sub­hu­man.

“Res­i­dent Evil 7” opens with Mia, a young woman, send­ing a video mes­sage to her hus­band, Ethan. On cam­era, she be­moans that her “babysit­ting” job has kept her away from home. The game then cuts to Mia sit­u­at­ing her­self in front of a grimy com­puter to record a brisk mes­sage for Ethan in which she apol­o­gizes for ly­ing to him and im­plores him to stay away. It’s left as an open ques­tion as to whether her sec­ond mes­sage finds its re­cip­i­ent, be­cause in the next scene we find Ethan driv­ing along a sun-dap­pled road chat­ting with a friend on his cell. Af­ter three years with no word from her, Ethan tells his friend that he is en route to Dul­vey, La., to fol­low up on a tip that Mia is alive and well and wait­ing to be re­united with him.

Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing at the Dul­vey House, Ethan dis­cov­ers a VHS tape bizarrely enough recorded in 2017. An easy search in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity re­veals a VCR. Pop­ping the tape in, the play- er’s per­spec­tive shifts from Ethan’s to that of a cam­era­man — I think any­one who was a fan of the movie “Poltergeist” will ex­pe­ri­ence a fris­son mov­ing from out­side the tele­vi­sion into the ac­tion on screen. It’s ev­i­dent that the cam­era­man is at a low point in his pro­fes­sional life since he’s film­ing the dullards be­hind Sewer Ga­tors, a show whose ti­tle trum­pets its ded­i­ca­tion to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of con­tem­po­rary leg­ends. Af­ter break­ing into the same house where Ethan is now, the crew bab­ble about the ru­mors sur­round­ing the for­mer in­hab­i­tants who dis­ap­peared. When the host of the show snark­ily refers to the Bak­ers as hill­bil­lies, his col­league cor­rects him say­ing, “they were quiet, not back­ward.” Need­less to say, since this is a sur­vival hor­ror game, the film­ing that night doesn’t wrap on a good note.

As I made my way through the house as Ethan, I found it hard not to feel equally con­temp­tu­ous and re­volted by the mon­strosi­ties that threat­ened me be­cause the dwelling was be­yond derelict. Aside from the deadly look­ing mold that I en­coun­tered with ever-alarm­ing fre­quency, the thing that leapt out about the Bak­ers’ res­i­dence were the bags of trash ev­ery­where. The fam­ily pho­to­graphs, chil­dren’s toys and other bric-a-brac of do­mes­tic­ity are all made du­bi­ous or tainted by way of as­so­ci­a­tion with so much filth. If “Res­i­dent Evil 7” does one thing par­tic­u­larly well, it’s to tease out the prej­u­dices that lie at the heart of con­sumerism. If you can’t take care of your stuff there is some­thing morally sus­pect about what­ever de­graded cir­cum­stances you might find your­self in. You brought ruin on your­self, so to speak. The para­dox of the game making such logic ob­vi­ous is that its ba­sic story, which I found oth­er­wise un­re­ward­ing, works to pro­duce sym­pa­thy for one’s an­tag­o­nists. It be­comes clear as you ad­vance through the story that the mur­der­ous en­ti­ties sur­round­ing you are also vic­tims — of ir­re­spon­si­ble ac­tions.

I’m ul­tra-se­lec­tive in my ap­pre­ci­a­tion of hor­ror. I liked “Alien: Iso­la­tion” and I found “The Evil Within” fas­ci­nat­ing for the va­ri­ety of its macabre level de­sign. “Res­i­dent Evil 7” was not some­thing I rel­ished play­ing, but I re­spect its puz­zle de­sign. The way the game grad­u­ally doles out its en­vi­ron­ment is im­pres­sive, but I found many of the mon­ster en­coun­ters to­ward the game’s sec­ond half fairly pre­dictable. I came to ex­pect each new en­emy en­counter to pile on a cou­ple of ex­tra monsters sim­i­lar to the ones I’d al­ready killed.

As the cred­its rolled, I felt glad to be done with it.

CAPCOM

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