Elements of the Archetypical Fairy Tale in Resident Evil 7

Sunday 31 January 2021

I have mentioned previously in this blog that video games are like fairy tales of the new era; a good amount of them follow the structure of classic fairy tales, but in some this is extremely dominant, resulting in being an essential part of their plot, their mood and the development of their characters. BioShock Infinite is a very characteristic case, which I analyzed in a previous article, and Resident Evil 7 shares a similar trait: it is built around the logic of an archetypical fairy tale, including in its plot several such elements as crucial axes. 

Fairy tales in general, and specifically those that are or based on folk material, no matter where they originate from, have a few standards as far as both their plots and their characters are concerned: there are some good characters, some villains who usually chase and wish to kill the good characters, there is someone (most of the times, but not always, a girl) who is locked in some sort of prison, sometimes there is a cruel giant, a witch, an evil stepmother with an equally evil daughter, other times there is a knight or prince who arrives at just the right moment to kill the villains and free the imprisoned girl. A mysterious house is a place of interest in several tales, together with its strange residents - whether those are humans, animals or creatures that belong to another world, doesn't really matter although it may make a difference as far as the development of the plot is concerned.

What usually dominates is an evil force; one which may have numerous manifestations in a tale: the aforementioned evil antagonists are such a case, also a supernatural and very powerful entity can represent it, while sometimes all the aspects of evil can co-exist in the same story. In Resident Evil 7, the spirit of evil that dominates Ethan's story, is Eveline, the bioweapon that takes human forms, first appearing as a lost little girl, then transforming into an old, seemingly harmless invalid woman who seems to be everywhere in the Baker family home where the story unfolds. Eveline, who slyly invaded the house a while back, infected the members of the family, turning them into monstrous, cannibalistic creatures with absolutely no sense of humanity inside and about them, making them carriers of evil.

Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty were metaphorically imprisoned, as they were doomed to remain asleep for a long time. Rapunzel was literally imprisoned, high up in a huge tower. In Resident Evil 7, the role of the imprisoned princess initially belongs to Mia, whom Ethan finds literally asleep in the dark and gloomy dungeons of the Baker property grounds, among suspicious-looking stuffed bags and weird tools. During the same time, Ethan has the role of the liberator prince or knight; instead of on a white horse, he arrives in a fancy car, and he does not find a castle or tower but a grim guest house. The rescue process goes anything but well, as Mia, possessed by Eveline, unexpectedly abandons the role of the victim/princess and takes that of the bad witch, attacking Ethan viciously and subsequently attempting to kill him. Eventually Ethan stops being her rescuer, and is forced to attack her so as to save his life. At the end of a frustrating battle between them in the attic of the guest house, Jack Baker arrives and drags an unconscious Ethan in his actual "castle": the family's house, where Ethan comes face to face with its inhabitants: Jack, Marguerite and Lucas. He also indirectly meets the family's daughter, Zoe, infected as well but much less than the others and is able to control herself, who promises to help him escape.

Jack is the fairy tale's giant - a terrifying and merciless cannibal who is constantly hungry for human flesh. When he walks around the house looking for Ethan, he is a reminiscent of the giant who returns home and senses that there is a human hiding somewhere because he can tell of their scent. Later on after he mutates, he becomes a literal giant, a huge, monstrous creature that is uncontrollable in its appetite and attacks.

The dragon Jack establishes his position in the main house, while Marguerite guards the old house and Lucas locks himself up in what used to be the barn and storage area. The main house is filled with traps, monsters and intimidating doors decorated with dead animals, and to be able to escape from there, Ethan has to find three key items that unlock the exit and fight against Jack in the basement and temporarily defeat him. Then, following Zoe's plan, he goes to the old house where he has to evade Marguerite's tricks and eventually confront her in the greenhouse. Marguerite, whose mutation involves giving birth to giant flies and swarms of spiders, gradually identifies herself with her insects, growing extremely long arms and legs, additionally developing her cannibalistic habits even more, which is also an attribute of a specific genre of fly. Her attacks are vicious, and she grows a particularly wild appetite for Ethan's family jewels. Of course this is not random; as she gradually strips off her human nature, the primordial instincts come forward; but her cannibalistic tendency messes with her lustful appetite and she wants to devour Ethan for real. At this point, she borrows the trait of her husband and expresses a hunger for human flesh, therefore taking herself the role of the giant since he is temporarily out of the picture.

The role of Lucas Baker in this dark fairy tale is a complex and twisted one. Although Ethan does not belong to the dragon Jack's family, he and Lucas seem to be two sides of the same coin. In several fairy tales, there is a beautiful and kind maiden, unlucky enough to be the stepdaughter of an evil witch who also has a daughter of her own, a girl who is ugly and wicked like her mother. This girl is generally aware of her unpleasant physical appearance, but prefers to turn a blind eye to this fact and instead play along her mother's various devices that aim at making her believe that she is pretty. At some point, the beautiful girl sits on a tall tree with a well below it, and the ugly girl goes to the well to get water; she sees the reflection of the pretty girl and thinks that it is her own. When the revelation comes, the ugly, evil girl hates the pretty, kind girl even more, and does everything to humiliate and/or exterminate her. 

With Lucas taking the part of the ugly, evil child, Ethan becomes his counterpart - the male version of the kind, beautiful maiden. Although we can never see Ethan's face, we can assume that he is good-looking; a fair-haired young man with white skin, obviously coming from a rather well off urban environment, whose life was undoubtedly happy until he got involved in this nightmare. Lucas does have a natural sister, Zoe, but her role in this fairy tale is that of the companion and helper of the hero: she is the one who guides him via phone calls and offers him valuable assistance during his quests. From the moment when Zoe escaped the Baker family home, distancing herself from her disturbing family, she became an outsider; and she is literally one, since she is never seen actually getting inside the house, unlike Ethan who wanders around getting to know every single room and secret passage in there. Zoe, with her medical knowledge, is also the positive counterpart of her mother - Marguerite is the evil witch while Zoe is the good witch who performs "magic" for a good cause and creates "spells" that are able to rid of "curses": she uses two objects with magical significance - a head and an arm - to create the serum which will be used to free herself and Mia from the virus with which they have been infected.

Lucas, unlike his parents, never transforms into a monster in the main game; Ethan has to deal with his human form only, but this does not correspond to a typical boss fight. The son of the Baker family is playing hide and seek in the chaotic and mazey storage area, where he has set up all sorts of twisted and lethal traps in order to torture and eventually kill his victims. Ethan is forced to fight several monsters and go weaponless through a stressing trial before he is able to take back one of the valuable ingredients for the serum, which Lucas has stolen. So just like in the fairy tales, the evil character is constantly trying to prevent the good protagonist to reach his goal, which now is to save both his wife and Zoe whom Lucas abducted in the meantime. 

At this point, Ethan still carries the role of the liberator/knight, but it won't be long until this condition is reversed, because after he leaves the Baker property with either Mia or Zoe, the fairy tale takes an unexpected turn:  Ethan becomes the male counterpart of the imprisoned princess, and Mia acts the part of the knight who battles all sorts of evil forces in order to save him. Eveline traps Ethan in a cocoon in the wrecked ship in an attempt to keep manipulating Mia; but Mia, who still has her free will, manages to liberate her husband and nearly sacrifices herself in order to make sure he will be safe.

Puzzles and trials many times form the core of fairy tales, and this is one more element that makes video games relate to them so strongly. Ethan's story is full of both, and most of them are dangerous and cunning. The main house itself is one big puzzle, as nearly all of its passages are locked and Ethan has to look for keys to open the intimidating doors that block them. There are items hidden in bathtubs, grandfather clocks, books, corpses even. The basement of the house is yet one more puzzle, accessed through more than one entrances, that has been transformed into a huge slaughterhouse.

Although the main house of the Bakers is the dominant environment, it is in fact the old house that is the most compelling and iconic stage of action. Broken wooden floors, hidden crawlspaces, melted candles, torn wallpapers, swarms of bugs and flies that either fly around or hang on nests, a secret altar with items that echo the voodoo ceremonies of the rural Louisiana, where the story takes place, bridges decorated with dolls and doll heads, an abandoned greenhouse with wild vegetation, narrow passages filled with crawlers, vintage objects that are used as pieces of puzzles, like a wooden crank or an oil lamp, are only some of the elements that describe the chilling atmosphere of the old house, which is Marguerite's domain. If the main house was a death trap, the old house is like a witch's lair, where any intruder is unwelcome.

The old house is partly the fairy tale's maze; although not a literal labyrinth, its setting is equally confusing due to the many doors, locked passages and similar-looking rooms. Ethan has to cross its hostile grounds several times, while being hunted by Marguerite and her bugs, as he is looking for a series of items that will lead him to one of the ingredients that Zoe has requested. Prior to getting inside the old house, however, Ethan has the chance to watch a revealing video cassette which shows Mia wandering around the place while Marguerite is looking for her. This creepy footage offers some hints as to where he should go and what he could look for in order to solve the many puzzles of the old house. Marguerite appears eventually, unleashing her bugs to make him go away from her realm and blocking his path on several occasions. Ethan has to find ways to outsmart her in order to complete his exploration, but it is not until he faces her mutated form and kills her that he is able to find the ingredient for the serum.

The less fairy tale-looking environment is the wrecked ship, a stage that somehow switches the story back to reality with its grim grey/blue colors that contrast the faded sepia/yellow tones of the Baker family property sceneries. It is interesting that after Mia's part is complete on the ship and we return to the Baker house with Ethan again, the colors of those areas are not sepia/yellow anymore; their tone resembles more that of the ship; and additionally, the whole look in the guest house, which was the very first area that Ethan explored when he arrived, is now like it belongs to a hallucination. The atmosphere is dense and thick, Ethan has disturbing visions on his way, and eventually he finds himself back up in the attic where it all began - where he had that very first battle with the possessed Mia. Now it is Eveline waiting for him there, taking her human forms before she reveals the literal monster that she really is: a huge mutant that has taken over the guest house and whatever is around it, a creature of unidentified identity that reeks of poison, destruction and death, the personification of Evil in its most extreme form. Like in fairy tales, Evil is defeated in the end and Good prevails, but as we know Evil never actually dies for good, always finding ways to resurrect itself from its ashes.


Mar Lox said...

What an amazing analysis. Video games are indeed the fairy tales of our time, when traditional myths have supposedly been busted by the various fields of science. It is refreshing to see that humanity has not been completely demystified but is still clnging to the archetypal poetry of its roots.

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

@Mar Lox, thank you very much!