Starring: Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner), Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp), Robbie Amell (The Babysitter), Tom Hopper (The Umbrella Academy), Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap), Donal Logue (Gotham), Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Writer/Director: Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down)
Runtime: 1 hour 47 minutes
Release Date: 24th November (US), 3rd December (UK)
Considering it takes much of its inspirations from horror cinema, you’d think the Resident Evil series would be one of the easier video game franchises to adapt, but reality unfortunately rarely makes that much sense. Between 2002 and 2017, modern schlockmeister Paul W. S. Anderson delivered six “adaptations” that merely used the characters and iconography of the games as window dressing to showing off his badass OC protagonist Alice, coincidentally played by Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich. Whilst the Anderson series had their moments of gonzo stupid brilliance, they were a far cry from what fans of the series wanted: a faithful adaptation of the core storyline of the games. Well, it seems Sony have decided to grant that monkey’s paw wish, as the reboot Welcome to Raccoon City does deliver where the originals failed in looking and feeling like Resident Evil. It’s just a shame that the movie is otherwise a bit crap.
There were plenty of promising starting points for a new Resident Evil film to take; they could have adapted a more standalone story like 4 or 7, tackled the origin of Zero, or just told their own story that interweaved with the main timeline. Instead, Welcome to Raccoon City takes the wildcard approach and decides to mush together the plots of the first two games into one story. This idea might have worked in different circumstances (e.g. combining the second and third games, as they take place simultaneously), but what we get instead are the CliffsNotes of two already barebones stories that remove any of the meaty content that make them interesting. What’s there is relatively faithful to both the story and themes of the games, but there’s no time to actually explore any of it in detail, as the plot rapidly flits between these two mostly unrelated narratives. That’s not to say the film is fast-paced, as the story takes its time establishing the characters and setting whilst creating an impending sense of dread.
It’s during this calm before the storm where Welcome to Raccoon City is at its strongest, and as the action slowly ramps up it captures the horror of the series in ways the gun-toting Anderson films rarely ever did. Unfortunately, the movie is unable to deliver on any of its promises, with character arcs cut short and plot threads quietly abandoned as the film speeds towards its piddly and unsatisfying conclusion before doing the expected sequel bait in a mid-credits stinger. There is absolutely much more Resident Evil in this one movie than in the entirety of the previous series, but much like those films what’s there is mostly just the surface level elements. If the filmmakers had instead focused on adapting one of these two games, they might have at least managed to flesh out the characters and included more of the meaty subtext about corporate America and the pharmaceutical industry. In trying to do too much in too little time, they’ve once again made a film that will confuse newcomers and anger the fans it’s trying to pander to.
There are a lot of iconic characters in the Resident Evil franchise, and every fan has their favourites. In compressing the two games into one, a lot of them have been cut or had their functions lumped into other characters; don’t expect appearances from the likes of Barry Burton, Rebecca Chambers or either version of the Tyrant. The characters are the main area Welcome to Raccoon City has attempted to flesh out the mythos and differentiate these often-interchangeable heroes, but the results are somewhat mixed. Claire Redfield is the story’s ostensible protagonist and probably the closest to her game incarnation out of anyone, and Kaya Scodelario does a solid job of embodying her confidence in the face of danger and her unrelenting disdain for the big bad Umbrella Corporation. Jill Valentine has been reimagined here as a more brash and trigger-happy character, and whilst Hannah John-Kamen does a solid job of making this version endearing, she’s basically unrecognisable beyond her name and outfit. Chris Redfield was always the blandest of the games’ core cast and he remains so here, with the script and Robbie Amell’s performance doing little to elevate him beyond being a beefcake with a gun. That said, at least the film doesn’t do him a disservice, which can’t be said for this reboot’s version of Leon S. Kennedy. Though he was admittedly an inexperienced rookie in both versions of Resident Evil 2, Avan Jogia’s Leon is a complete buffoon played mostly for comic relief, sleeping through literal explosions and barely even able to handle a gun. This could have been acceptable if used as part of a character arc, which seems to be have been the intention, but it gets completely side-lined and Leon suddenly turns from confused simp into wise-cracking badass seemingly between scenes.
Out of the core cast, Tom Hopper easily fares the best as Albert Wesker. The future archenemy of the franchise was always something of a cipher; a character who, from the moment you saw him in the first game, you knew was evil. Here though, the filmmakers have tried to humanise and develop Wesker into a more grounded character whilst leaving the door open for him to become the villain fans know him as. Hopper does a solid job making Wesker a conflicted and potentially fascinating presence whenever the script finds him some breathing room, though the decision to include a limp love triangle between him, Jill and Chris is a little jarring. Reliable character actor Donal Logue is a welcome addition as Chief Irons, carrying the film’s comedic undertones where Jogia fails to and just relishing the opportunity to play an over-the-top police captain; a moment where he chews out Wesker was the only scene I got a genuine laugh out of. Neal McDonough is all the film has in terms of a human antagonist as Dr William Birkin, and though he makes ample appearances throughout and they’ve crafted this whole backstory connecting him to Claire and Chris, he leaves little impact. Even worse, Birkin’s daughter Sherry is an incredibly core component of Resident Evil 2, and whilst she’s here as played by Holly de Barros, she’s a complete nothing character with maybe two lines and no emotional connection to Claire or any of the other heroes; why even include her if she’s going to do nothing? There are minor roles here for other game characters like Richard Aiken, Brad Vickers and Ben Bertolucci, and whilst the film sets up Lisa Trevor in its opening and throughout as if she’s going to be important, the story completely drops her by the third act. That seems to be the main recurring problem with Welcome to Raccoon City: everything feels slapdash and unfinished. The often-drastic character changes would be fine if the story justified them or they satisfyingly evolved into their game counterparts, but they don’t, even when it seems like that was the intention. Again, if the filmmakers had just adapted one game instead of trying to Frankenstein two of them together, this might have been less of an issue.
Writer/director Johannes Roberts has stated in multiple interviews that his main inspiration for Welcome to Raccoon City were the films of John Carpenter, in particular Assault on Precinct 13, and that influence is clear in the film’s presentation. Though set in 1998, the film very much captures the look and feel of indie genre flicks from the 1970s, and that veneer of old school horror does a lot to ground the film and differentiate itself from the slick, Matrix-inspired sheen of the Anderson films. The camerawork feels ripped right out of the Dean Cundey playbook, with a lot of long handheld shots as we follow characters down dark hallways to the next fright. At the same time though, it sometimes feels like this approach is more out of necessity than creative intention. Not even taking inflation into account, this is the lowest-budget Resident Evil movie yet, and that lack of cash really shows in a lot of the cut corners. Raccoon City itself has turned from a bustling metropolis to a Podunk ghost town, there’s barely ever more than about ten zombies on screen at a time, and whilst locations like the Spencer Mansion and the police station lobby look game-accurate, they feel like empty sets rather than real places.
Whilst the camera aspect of the cinematography is solid, the lighting and colour grading is utterly amateurish; a real surprise, considering DOP Maxime Alexandre has done solid work on a number of horror flicks and even blockbusters like Shazam! Much of the film is awash in this dirty brown hue that’s meant to make it look old but just makes it dull, and so many sets are underlit seemingly to create ambience but it just makes it hard to see what’s going on. Most of the Spencer Mansion sequence is lit like this, and there’s even an action sequence where the only light source is Chris Redfield’s gun as he fires into the dark at zombies; this is the type of amateur filmmaking you expect out of Uwe Boll. Even if the cheap sets and obvious practical effects were an intentional nod rather than lack of funds, that old-school aesthetic is really thrown off once the CGI monsters come into play. On a design level they look straight out of the games…but not in a good way. The animation is chunky, the render quality is extremely low, and again their presence completely upends any attempt at looking nostalgic. It’s clear that Roberts is a big fan of both the Resident Evil games and John Carpenter movies, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans of both to find, but whether he lacked the budget or the skill to execute it properly, the final result sits somewhere between cheap studio schlock and overly-ambitious fan film.
Is Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City better than the original films? Yes. Is it more faithful to the games? Yes. Does it have some interesting new ideas of its own? In theory, sure. Does that mean it’s a good movie? Unfortunately, no. Try as it might, this reboot simply bites off more than it can chew in attempting to sandwich two great games into one subpar movie. It certainly feels like a well-intentioned film rather than a cash-in, the cast give it their all even when the script fails them, and the grungy grindhouse approach has its aesthetic charms, but it just goes to show that one fatal flaw can unravel everything else going for a movie. Given how low-budget this effort was, there’s a chance Welcome to Raccoon City may scrape together enough coin to get a sequel, and if it does I hope they at least take to heart that main issue and focus their next entry on just one game. Otherwise, let’s see if the upcoming (and wholly unrelated) Netflix series can deliver something more worthy of this franchise’s reputation.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/10
One thought on “RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY – an Alternative Lens review”
I’m a massive Milla fan who’s never played the game. For me this was always going to be a hard sell, and even Kaya couldn’t get it over the line for me.