Warning: Contains Spoilers
The Resident Evil series is a game franchise that helped pioneer survival horror as a legitimate gaming genre. Recent additions to the franchise have departed from survival horror and strayed into the realm of fast-paced action.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 marks a return to the franchise’s horror roots and succeeds in this by drawing on primal fears that originate in childhood.
While some past games drew on George A. Romero zombie films for inspiration, this particular game reminded me strongly of two movies – The Company Of Wolves and Snow White: A Tale of Terror. The Company Of Wolves is based on feminist reinterpretations of certain fairy tales and myths by novelist Angela Carter. Snow White: A Tale of Terror is a gritty retelling of the Snow White tale. Both these movies deal with the haunting themes of birth, female sexuality, transformation and death.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 does the same. Three of the four playable characters are female and represent different aspects of feminine power. Natalia is the innocent child with hidden potential, Moira is the young maiden on the edge of adulthood and Claire is the seasoned survivor. Furthermore, the main villain, Alex Wesker, is female and acts as a stand-in for the archetype of the wicked fairy-tale witch or step-mother/ foster-mother.
Barry Burton is the playable male character. It’s a pleasure to see rugged masculinity represented as a positive force. Often pop-culture offerings empower one gender at the expense of the other. Male-centric entertainment often reduces female characters to eye candy or damsels in distress whereas female-centric entertainment tends to portray male characters as completely impotent or solely as threats. Burly, rugged Barry Burton represents the wild man commonly found in older fairy-tales, the link to primal masculinity and he is portrayed not as a threat but rather as a protective force.
All the female characters are powerful in their own way. Claire is shown as a competent fighter with invaluable experience of how to respond to the shambling monsters on the island. Moira undergoes a character arc in which she learns how to empower herself. In one of the multiple endings, her presence is the deciding factor.
Alex is among the most complex of the characters. Her relationship with the orphaned Natalia is the defining element of the game. Alex, an older woman, represents the wicked stepmother/ foster mother/ malevolent witch in this modern fairytale. Her relationship with Natalia can be seen as a metaphor for a corrupted maternal dynamic.
She originally aspires to immortality by seeking to implant her consciousness into Natalia. Like many dysfunctional “parents,” she seeks to live through her “child.” Literally instead of vicariously in this case.
However, Alex comes to realize that, while Natalia might ape her personality, she herself will still die. Her quest for immortality has failed. Upon realizing this, Alex grows jealous of Natalia and spends much of her time trying to destroy the young girl. This echoes a common themes in fairytales, where stepmothers/ foster mothers are threatened by their stepdaughter’s emerging sexuality and fertility. While Natalia is thankfully never sexualized (since she is a child), her presence and developing abilities are still a threat to Alex.
It’s interesting to note that much of the game centers on biological experiments. Biology, the ability to create life and to control it, is something associated with women and motherhood. All of Alex’s attempts to do so end in failure and corruption. Ultimately, she herself becomes physically corrupted. This physical corruption occurs as her daughter-substitute, Natalia, begins to come into her own power and supplant Alex.
In the bad ending, Natalia kills Alex by ripping out her heart. This is a clever reversal of Snow White’s stepmother demanding her heart as proof of her death. Natalia then supplants Alex by “becoming” her – the implanted Alex personality emerges and takes control. The daughter devours the mother.
It’s a more brutal and perhaps truer retelling of fairytales in which the step-daughter or foster-daughter – deliberately or unwittingly – destroys the flawed maternal figure. In the original versions of these tales, the cast-out step-daughter/ foster-daughter has often become a mother herself. In Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Natalia gives birth to herself or rather, a new version of herself – a fusion of her body and Alex’s mind.
In the good ending, Natalia is temporarily saved from this fate by Moira’s timely intervention. Alex is destroyed through the combined efforts of the various characters and Natalia is whisked to safety by Claire who, as the oldest female protagonist, represents the positive maternal force or the good “fairy godmother.”
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was able to explore multiple facets of femininity and female interaction because it had multiple female characters. I look forward to future games featuring this character lineup. It will be interesting to see the development of Natalia as a character and whether she succumbs to her “mother’s” programming (as implied in a final scene) or manages to break away from it to avoid starting the cycle anew.