The Evil Within: The Return Of Real Survival Horror?
Even if you don’t know Shinji Mikami, you definitely know his work. He’s the visionary behind the original Resident Evil, who returned years later to helm Resident Evil 4 and has often been cited as one of the pioneers of survival horror.
Frankly, that’s more than enough reason to get excited about The Evil Within, Mikami’s supposed final directing gig that sees him come full circle and reinvigorate the genre he defined decades earlier. And you can see the Mikami touch within moments of stepping into his latest nightmare.
Resident Evil is everywhere in The Evil Within.
Heck, it’s even in the title. But more appositely, it shares the over-the-shoulder combat and the cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the fourth mainline entry, while also employing audio and visual techniques used in the original to subtly elevate tension to terrifying levels.
Resident Evil + Silent Hill = The Evil Within?
But amongst the congruent blend of Resi staples, there are a few notable ideas shared with old rival Silent Hill. Most notably the idea that rather than playing a machismo-machine off to save the world, you’re a vulnerable victim lost within the psychological torment of the grim, tightly-constructed environs.
Detective Sebastian Castellanos is the trench coat-wearing hero, who arrives at the ominous mental asylum after responding to a troublesome distress call. Abandoned police cars clutter the driveway of the estate, but there’s no sign of struggle.
Things only get weirder from there as Sebastian and a few cops enter the institute, only to find the hallway is littered with corpses. Sebastian snaps into action and checks the security camera footage, only to witness his colleagues get viciously slaughtered by a ghoulish figure.
In a beat Sebastian turns from the monitors, only to see the same creature staring back at him, unleashing a blood-curdling scream at Sebastian.
Escaping Enemies, Not Fighting Them
Bach’s Air on the G String is now playing.
Sebastian steadily awakens, finding himself hanging upside down in a meat locker surrounded by dead bodies, while a gentleman in the distance mutilates a corpse with a chainsaw. The perspective shifts to first-person as Sebastian swings towards a knife protruding out of a hanging body to cut himself free of his binds, before he makes a silent dash for freedom.
Violence isn’t the key to survival, as Sebastian tumbles into scenarios that leave him constantly down-at-heel against his grisly adversaries. Here, in the abattoir beneath the asylum, Sebastian must make cautious steps towards the exit – loud footsteps will quickly alert the distracted Butcher – and after slowly opening the door (at an obstructive camera angle so you can’t quite see what lies behind it) a brief moment of intense relief offers a slither of hope.
But the respite is only fleeting, as a second later the alarm is triggered and the Butcher returns, charging at Sebastian with a chainsaw – recalling the extreme panic felt in Resident Evil 4 when Dr. Salvador made his impactful first appearance.
The difference here is that instead of unloading a few panicked shots at the fast-approaching target, Sebastian must run. The Butcher lunges forward, catching the back of Sebastian’s leg with the chainsaw that leaves him limping towards cover.
What follows is a deadly game of hide-and-seek, as Sebastian takes refuge in lockers, lobbing bottles to distract his hunter and sneakily switching between cover points.
The whole scenario will come as a breath of fresh air for genre aficionados. There are no absurd wrestling moves, no ill-considered quips to speak of. Every aspect of the scene is constructed as a raw, unrelenting survival trial.
The Evil Within’s Stripped Back Approach To Horror
This stripped-back approach is demonstrated once again in a later scene that resembles Resident Evil 4’s Los Ganados.
Inside a rickety log cabin, Sebastian must fend off the unrelenting waves of zombified creatures knocking at the door. He explores the ground floor and cellar before setting several traps to ensnare enemies that break through the entry points.
Overwhelmed by the horde, he runs down into the cellar only to find the whole environment completely transformed from earlier and a body on the ground morphing into a horrific spider-like creature constituting of human limbs.
Could it all be a hallucination conjured by Sebastian’s own unstable mind or perhaps something more supernatural at play. It’s an unsettling enigma that fuels much of the intrigue surrounding Mikami’s latest, lending it unpredictability that plays right into the creative strengths of the auteur. But what of originality? Much what we saw appeared to be safe territory, mostly inspired by previous works.
If Mikami is truly setting out to rejuvenate the genre, then he’ll need to do more than rely on resurrecting old ideas to make this a genre masterpiece.
The full unedited preview and accompanying interview can be found in issue 100 of X360, which is on sale digitally from greatdigitalmags.com