Surviving Resident Evil (in Reading)

Feature Sarah Dobbs
7 Feb 2013 - 07:43

The release of Resident Evil: Retribution prompted Sarah to face her own zombie apocalypse - in deepest, darkest Reading...

I would be no use in a zombie apocalypse. I’ve long suspected that’s the case – I’m a writer, not a hunter or survivalist – but now I know for sure. Because at a Resident Evil-themed live action zombie survival event, I contributed nothing but whimpering to the game.

At an abandoned shopping mall in Reading, you can pay to be terrified. Zed Events runs regular zombie survival days, where you and your friends can learn how to kill the undead and then spend the day running around in the dark, screaming. To some people, it’s a completely bizarre idea: why would you deliberately lock yourself in a zombie-ridden mall? For a certain sub-section of the population, though, it probably sounds like the most fun ever. And it is, but it’s also properly scary. 

I thought I was over zombies. I’ve seen too many movies, and I’m pretty jaded about the undead. I spent the morning joking about strategies with the other journalists, debating the merits of trying Shaun Of The Dead’s 'pretend to be a zombie' tactic versus just running for your life. But when we got to Reading, things got serious. We were led into a dark building, fed an unknown substance by an Umbrella Corp scientist, instructed to put on a flak jacket and eye protection, and handed a pump-action Airsoft gun. And at that point, all my bravado went out of the window.

After a brief training session in which I learned I was too feeble to pump the shotgun one-handed, we headed out into a darkened corridor. Suddenly every doorway I passed was a threat. Was something going to pop out? Did that shadow just move, or was it my imagination? A group of Umbrella grunts led us through some graffiti-daubed tunnels and up into the mall itself, and promptly got themselves shot by some anti-Umbrella dudes, who became our new guides. Now we were targets not only for brain-hungry ghouls but also for armed Umbrella operatives. 

No matter how many times I told myself it was only a game, my heart raced and adrenaline pumped through my veins. I knew nothing would actually happen to me if a zombie got me, but even so, I did not want a zombie to get me. Knowing they were actors didn’t change that. Beforehand, I’d kind of thought maybe I’d turn into a badass when I actually had a gun in my hands, but that didn’t happen. One glimpse of a guy in an Executioner costume and I screamed and ran.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could accurately recount everything that happened in the mall. It all seemed to happen so fast, and so terrifyingly. We got a message from the Red Queen (“You’re all going to die down here”), we wedged ourselves into a tiny dark corridor and peered out to count the zombies outside, we rescued a girl Umbrella had apparently been experimenting on, we ran up and down stairs and escalators. And the whole time, we could hear zombies moaning and people screaming in the distance. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. 

Eventually we found ourselves out on the roof awaiting rescue by helicopter. Obviously, a helicopter didn’t really turn up, so we just walked back downstairs to the safe room, where a tame zombie served us hotdogs. Still feeling a bit shaky and excited, we settled down to watch Resident Evil: Retribution. Which is, y’know, a Resident Evil movie: Milla Jovovich kills zombies with her thighs, there are loads of CGI monsters, and the plot is a vague handwave to excuse the non-stop fighting. It’s reasonably enjoyable, I guess, but the combination of the film and the zombie experience made me realise something. Should the dead ever rise for real, I’ll need to get my hands on a gun quickly – and put a bullet straight into my brain. There’s no hope for me in a post-apocalyptic world.

Resident Evil: Retribution is out now on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD.

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