Back in 1996, Capcom changed videogames as we know them with Resident Evil…
…Survival horror games had been around before then, but RE was the one that made them mainstream. It’s no wonder expectations were high for Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 film adaptation of the franchise, one which fans tore apart like a horde of zombies for not staying true to the beloved game series. A fault which writer/director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) set out to correct with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.
And you know what? He did it. Welcome to Raccoon City is the Resident Evil film fans have been ravenous for.
Set in the late 90s around the time of the original game’s release, Welcome to Raccoon City combines elements of the first three RE games, introducing us to a decrepit Raccoon City on the brink of a night of terror. Pharmaceutical company Umbrella Corp, responsible for the livelihood of the town, is on its way out, having left just a skeleton crew behind. The only people still around are the police and those too poor to leave. Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) has just arrived to reconnect with her cop brother, Chris (Robbie Amell) after being warned by Raccoon City conspiracy theorist/buddy Ben (Josh Cruddas) that there is an infection spreading throughout the city. Too bad for Claire and the rest of the population, because what awaits them is a night of death, betrayal, and unimaginable horror.
One element that fans felt was missing from Anderson’s take on the franchise was the “horror” of “survival horror”. Rest assured, that is not the case with Roberts’ vision. Welcome to Raccoon City is by far the scariest Resident Evil film to date, one that infects you with terror from the very beginning. Rather than open on some big action set piece, Raccoon City starts nice and intimate, taking us back to when Claire and Chris were orphans. Mark Korven’s eerie score complete with the haunting voices of children gets the fear radar screaming while Claire is stalked by a young girl named Lisa (Marina Mazepa), who is suffering from quite the monstrous condition. Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre shroud the scene—and much of the film—in a sinister darkness that hides what’s lurking in the shadows to get the heart racing.
This is what Roberts is best at. He excels at getting under the skin of the viewer and ratcheting up the tension until the audience can hardly breathe. The first act of Raccoon City is damn near atmospheric perfection. Unlike Anderson’s film, which throws viewers right into the fire, Roberts lets his Resident Evil creep into the bones as we get to know fan-favorite characters such as ace shot Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), in over his head rookie, Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia), ultra suspicious cop Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and others. Citizens show not-so-subtle signs of changing, such as hair falling out, bleeding eyes, and leaving love letters to Clair like “itchy, tasty” written in blood on the window. Raccoon City isn’t in a hurry. It takes its time to replicate the uneasy dread of the games, and it delivers big time in that area.
But perhaps what’s most satisfying about Welcome to Raccoon City is how unapologetically fun it is. As somewhat of a tribute to the era of the games, the film is an adrenaline-fueled callback to the fun, action horror camp of the 90s. This Resident Evil is big, bloody and badass. Raccoon City captures the essence of films like Deep Blue Sea or Deep Rising, crammed with corny one-liners, explosive set pieces, so much gore you might want to bring an umbrella—made by Umbrella Corp, preferably—and most importantly, a complete and utter lack of cynicism. I love my intellectual horror, but those craving pure entertainment are going to feel satisfied munching on this popcorn horror flick. Raccoon City splatters your brains against the wall and asks you to leave them there. It refuses to let something like plot get in the way of what we came for, which is all of the rip-roaring zombie carnage you can handle.
Some of you aren’t going to like how a few characters are portrayed—Leon as a mostly useless imbecile who can barely handle a gun seems…off—but bad dialogue and references to things like the first aid spray had my Resident Evil-loving ass feeling right at home. This film is full of winks and nods to the fans, making it clear how much passion the filmmakers put into delivering a Resident Evil for those of us who have been with the series since the beginning.
Unfortunately for audiences new to the series, they might find Raccoon City as confusing as those good old-fashioned tank controls from the early games.
Melding pieces from the first three games and taking viewers through the R.P.D. station, the Spencer Mansion—shout-out to the production design team because both shoot for accuracy and nail it—and others means there is a lot going on in Raccoon City, without taking much of any time to explain what the hell Umbrella Corp, the T-virus, or any of this madness really is. It’s easy to get lost in all of the different storylines—even Umbrella Corp goon William Birkin (Neal McDonough) has his own separate antics we’re following—and I’d be surprised if the average viewer leaves having the slightest clue of what the hell they just watched. And don’t even get me started on the chaotic mess that is the third act.
For better or worse, this Resident Evil is one hundred percent a juicy hunk of flesh for RE fans to sink their teeth into.
In fact, Raccoon City is so much a tribute to the games, that it often comes off like one big game cut-scene itself. While all of the actors give it their all, it’s tough for any to stand out when the characters are written like mindless, one-note zombies themselves. And for all of the gooey, gross, gruesome practical zombies roaming around, the rest of Raccoon City’s CG creatures pale by comparison. All are well designed, but all look like cheap videogame renderings. You all saw that trailer.
Raccoon City isn’t perfect. Not even close. But it didn’t need to be. All it needed to do was be scary. Be fun. And most importantly, give fans a Resident Evil film that was true to the games. Johannes Roberts achieved that. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City invites you into a frightening yet highly entertaining world that I can’t wait to watch more of, bleeding eyes be damned.
Bite into the itchy yet tasty flesh of Raccoon City. It’s (almost) everything you’ve been craving.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is now in theaters from Sony Pictures.
By Matt Konopka