I’ve had had a few things to say about the Resident Evil movie franchise in the past and predictably they weren’t particularly very nice. Originally conceived by Paul W.S Anderson to be a story that ran parallel to that of the games the series quickly revealed itself to be an overly adolescent action franchise that seemed more interested in randomly fucking around with Mila Jovovich’s DNA and showcasing some truly hideous CGI than building any actual scares or relatable characters. However, this complete reboot, helmed by Johannes Robert’s (47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey At Night), finally aims to take the franchise back to its video game roots with the straight adaption fans have always clamoured for.
Yeeeaaahhh…. I’d be careful what you wish for, guys.
It’s 1998, and Claire Redfield has returned to her hometown of Racoon City to find that it’s been abandoned by the massive pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella and left to twist in the wind as poverty and uncertainty fill the people who’ve had to stay behind. Something else that’s filling them too, thanks to Umbrella’s numerous illegal experiments, is a sickness obtained by the city’s tampered-with water supply and before you can say “Erin Brockovich”, all the hairloss and bleeding from the eyes becomes a full blown zombie epidemic. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the Racoon City Police Department are tooling up to head over to the spooky Spencer Mansion in order to find out what’s happened to some missing members of their team and head over there, typically gung-ho and shit, in order to work things out. Lead by Claire’s estranged brother Chris and filled out by the wise cracking Albert Wesker and the crack shot Jill Valentine, the team begin to find out what exactly Umbrella was up to before they decided to bog off, stage left in such a hurry. Meanwhile, a couple of steps behind, Claire gets to the R.P.D. headquarters only to be trapped inside with breathtakingly clueless rookie Leon Kennedy as the virally mutated undead gather outside like a zombie flash mob.
As the two groups try to solve the secrets of Raccoon City from opposing ends, numerous things are revealed; the main one being that the local orphanage that Chris and Claire grew up in may have been ground zero for the sinister experiments performed in Umbrella’s name (also an easy way to cram some character backstory in on the fly), but let’s not forget about Wesker, who’s shifty behaviour betrays the fact that he’s about to do something extraordinarily underhanded for a mystery buyer as a clock steadily ticks down to Raccoon’s destruction.
In a bizarre, yet oddly predictable, turn of events, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City turns out to be just as frustrating as the previous, Alice led, movies but for mostly differing reasons. As someone who played the original games during their original run (no slick, next gen, updated graphics for me), seeing the movies finally adhere to the plot of the games is somewhat of a minor triumph and seeing events play out without the aid of frantically over-edited fight scenes or irritating scenes of exposition being delivered by punchable holograms of little girls is a genuine relief. Also, the filmmakers strive to add something that the Paul Anderson movies couldn’t seem to manage on their best day and that’s to try and add some actual scares and even a little tension to proceedings; something that’s fairly important when the source material is an iconic example of survival horror. In fact, the movie even goes as far to recreate infamous moments from the games such as the truck crash from RE2 or that zombie reveal from RE1 and it does actually profess a genuine love for the game changing series.
If I’m being honest, the very that the movies have finally chosen to follow the plot of the games alone was enough to hold my attention for the entire duration – but it’s here where my positive remarks have to be logged in the inventory screen as Welcome To Raccoon City proves to be a double-edged blade.
An attractive cast containing Kaya (Crawl) Scodelario, Hannah (Ant-Man & The Wasp) John-Kamen, Avan (Zombieland: Double Tap) Jogia, Robbie (The Babysitter) Amell and Tom (The Umbrella Academy – which is pretty ironic) Hopper all fill out the various players of this universe, but while they all scamper around in the dark with aplomb, they barely have a character arc to share between them (Claire’s entire plot is sorted out in flashback giving Scodelario virtually nothing to do except look determined) and having to breathe life into some truly dodgy dialogue that ends up being dangerously close to RE1’s notorious voice over work back in 1998 (“Proceed with your own judgement, can you do that?”) – maybe don’t be too accurate will your movie, yeah guys? Actually, another unwelcome aspect that makes it over from the games is that there’s a surprising amount of aimless wandering that pads out the runtime considering that Roberts is adapting two RE games at the same time. The side effect of this is that it often has the frustrating feel of sitting there and watching newbie play a videogame who has no idea what they’re supposed doing when you do; once again, a stunning recreation of the game playing experience, but not exactly one you’d want to follow you into the cinema.
The creatures are threatening enough with some nifty, practical zombie stuff and the first incarnation of the final boss – you know the one; big, lumpy right arm with a big eyeball in the shoulder) – looking pretty sweet, but the movie also contains some shockingly poor visuals involving some cartoonishly ineffectual explosions and a final act monster that actually looks like someone tried to render John Carpenter’s The Thing on Microsoft paint.
Yet, despite all this, my deep rooted RE nostalgia somehow managed to stop me be being completely bored (although the monster vs. train scene finale had already been covered by Anderson in 2002), but anyone unfamiliar with the franchise may rightly question what the actual point of all this is supposed to be.
The good news is the film has massive John Carpenter vibes (single night setting, ticking clock, gooey monsters, the use of a certain font in the credits) but the bad news is that it actually plays more like a John Carpenter film from the late nineties and while it’s far better than the main bulk of the Mila Jovovich films, it’s not actually better than the best example of such a shallow franchise (Part 4, for the record). As a result, the final film is trapped between being overly familiar for fans, while simultaneously being kind of pointless to the uninitiated and as a result this is yet another case of cinema giving Raccoon city a couple more black eyes for its troubles.