With “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard”, released in 2017, the “Resident Evil” series of games ripped down the action-heavy experience it had accumulated over the previous several episodes and reverted to simple survival horror. However, after four years, the Resident Evil film series undergoes another hard reset, although this time it doesn’t get back to the origination of the whole films, instead, it digs deeper into the source material, for the first time bringing the first two series, particularly “Resident Evil 2”, to the big screen. In “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” writer/director Johannes Roberts has crafted a picture that is the most directly influenced by the games of any film so far, putting aside the CGI-heavy action of the Paul W.S. Anderson flicks. The characters and even the surroundings will be easily recognizable to “RE” fans, and the tone seems more akin to a game series influenced by “Evil Dead”. On the other hand, bumpy gameplay and clumsy narration keep “Raccoon City” from being the dread-inducing nightmare that dedicated fans have expected from the game series.
Fans of the games will recognize references towards the world they are acquainted with and love from the opening of “Welcome to Raccoon City.” The film begins with a young Claire Redfield and her brother Chris at an orphanage in the middle of Raccoon City, managed by the nefarious William Birkin (Neal McDonough). Claire is returning to Raccoon City through a hitched ride with a truck driver, years after a frightening opening scene in which she encounters a deformed girl called Lisa Trevor (Janet Porter). Claire, now played by Kaya Scodelario, has learned that the Umbrella Corporation is behind something wicked in her hometown. She arrived home on an incorrect day.
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It begins before she even enters Raccoon City when the driver collides with a young woman on the road.
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Claire gets up and goes away while he is arguing with her. Anyone who played the early games would cry “Zombie Dog!” at least in their heads as the trucker’s dog goes to lick the bleeding place. (Those nasty zombie dogs were one of the scariest sights ever seen in a video game). She ultimately arrives at the Raccoon City Police Department, which has been extraordinarily reconstructed from the original games. I was looking for ammunition behind the registration desk in the lobby.
Players and even fans of the Anderson films will easily recognize the RPD’s residents: Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), and Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) lead the way, with Donal Logue as Chief Irons chewing up all the scenery he can find (his first scene plays like he might think he’s in a bad cop movie parody). The characters are depressingly thin, despite the fact that the names are familiar. Jill gets a little spark from John-Kamen, but Scodelario appears bored, which no one could ever say about Milla Jovovich.
The police eventually break up and travel to two significant locations: Spencer Mansion, the site of the first game, and the department headquarters itself, where the majority of the second game happens. Especially attempting to create the “Resident Evil” film that John Carpenter would have directed, Roberts openly echoes his filmic inspirations as well, owing to Carpenter’s fondness for films based on the “Rio Bravo” formula of “good men inside, bad ones outside.” Please add me to the list if there is a “Assault on Precinct 13” related zombie movie.
Why, then, does “Welcome to Raccoon City” fall short of its potential?
It nails the gooey, slimy practical effects, but Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre struggle to create any tension. It’s still tough for the movies to capture the genuine terror of survival horror games, which were often short on ammo and filled with progressively difficult-to-kill opponents. In “Raccoon City,” there are far too many sequences with terrible geographies, such as flash cuts of zombie’s heads growling and firearms being shot. Repeat. There were instances when I couldn’t tell who was about to be eaten.
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For tension to exist, we must know where the characters are in the space.
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Otherwise, it’s just empty rhetoric.
There’s also a feeling that for individuals who haven’t played the early games, none of this will matter much.
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With a controller in my hand, my greatest rush came from identifying sites I’d seen before. Instead of being filmmaking, it is just fan service. I’d like to see a “Resident Evil” film that these iconic settings and characters got something new and thrilling to do with. And instead of starting with mythology and finishing with it, start with it too. Not to mention the fact that “Welcome to Raccoon City” has almost no plot. Roberts is pleased to bounce them off some zombies after setting up a slew of familiar faces, leading to a predictable climactic act that brings out some of the games’ classic big bads. It’s depressingly easy to predict where this movie will go and who will survive the inevitable sequel. “Predictable” is the thing a great horror game can’t be (and something the Anderson films can’t truly be accused of either).
Now playing in theaters.