Not many video games have had such a profound impact on the industry as Resident Evil / Biohazard. The first entry in the series created by Shinji Mikami and Tokyo Fujiwara revitalised the ‘survival horror’ genre in the 1990s. Its use of static cameras, haunting atmosphere, and complicated puzzles created an unprecedented level of immersion and fear. Players would battle against zombies, infected canines, and mutated creatures as they attempted to uncover the malevolent operations of evil pharmaceutical company the Umbrella Corporation. Owing much of its inspiration to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Resident Evil propelled the genre into the mainstream consciousness. By the turn of the millennium, Resident Evil had become Capcom’s most successful title, selling approximately 11 million copies worldwide. A quarter of a century later, the franchise continues to mutate and spread, having spawned 28 video games, comic-books, novels, and animated series.
Cinematic adaptations of video games have a negative reputation. Several infamous blunders, such as Mortal Kombat (1995), were infamously mediocre, whereas other iconic titles like Detective Pikachu (2019) have been pleasant surprises. Paul W.S Anderson’s Resident Evil movie franchise remains a benchmark of success in terms of bringing pixelated characters to life. The six Milla Jovovich-starring vehicles were incredibly successful and grossed a staggering $1.3BN worldwide. However, the success of those adaptations was mostly derided by fans due to the lack of fidelity to the source material. Following the release of the climactic Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017), Constantin Films announced they’d be resurrecting the franchise from the dead. Written and directed by Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down), a new but separate entry into the series would be more faithful to the source, with the resulting Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City a more earnest adaptation of Capcom’s games that’ll delight button-bashers.
Set during 1998, Raccoon City is the home of the aforementioned pharmaceutical giant, the Umbrella Corporation. But the town is thrust into bankruptcy, desolation, and widespread sickness when the company decides to relocate. Conspiracy theorist Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to her hometown to warn her brother, Chris (Robbie Amell), and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S) team that the streets of Raccoon City are soon to become overflowing with ravenous zombies. At the Raccoon City Police Department (RCPD), Chris and his elite team are sent to an abandoned mansion to locate their missing comrades. As they investigate the ominous estate, Claire teams up with Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) to go on a personal search mission to find her brother. However, nobody’s aware the corrupt pharma company aims to contain the outbreak by destroying the city.
Unlike Anderson’s divisive adaptations, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City re-introduces and focuses on several primary characters from the games. There are definitely some strong performances on display here, but Jovovich’s star quality and commanding charisma is noticeably lacking. Kaya Scoledario does a solid job embodying the confidence of hardened heroine Claire Redfield, a skill demonstrated in Alexandre Aja’s Crawl (2019), and although she’s not as warm as her pixelated counterpart, Scodelario gives Claire a likeable intensity. Her passion as she pursues her brother and uncovers Umbrella’s wrongdoings is compelling. Unfortunately, fans of the original series may be more frustrated with Avan Jogia’s (Zombieland: Double Tap) portrayal of Leon. Known for his charismatic bravado, the cop is depicted more like a character from Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan satire The Dead Don’t Die (2018). Though he was always considered the “rookie member of the force”, Leon’s incompetence was never played as comic relief. For fans of this beloved character, it quickly becomes tiresome as the screenplay leans into his inexperience.
It’s evidently clear writer-director Johannes Roberts has created something full of love and admiration for diehard Resident Evil fans. While Anderson’s previous instalments lifted elements from the games, they invented new characters and created a completely original storyline. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is more faithful to Capcom’s canon, focusing on the primary characters and closely aligning with its narrative. Fans of the games will quickly recognise the interconnecting narrative is a combination of the first two entries in the franchise, as the original Resident Evil followed Chris and the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team investigating the suspicious disappearance of the Bravo Team at the Spencer Mansion, while Resident Evil 2 followed Claire and Leon around the RCPD as the dangerous zombie virus befell the citizens of Raccoon City. Roberts’ tight screenplay evenly balances the two storylines while paying homage to many of the iconic moments and set pieces.
Showcasing impressive ingenuity with a $25M budget, Roberts’ dedication to replication is meticulous. Jennifer Spence’s (Shazam!) production design deserves immense praise for masterfully reconstructing the derelict Raccoon City. After the extremely powerful Umbrella Corporation leaves the town in economic shambles, the titular city is left to deteriorate. The melancholic atmosphere shrouding the dilapidated streets echoes John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Escape From New York (1981), while the iconic Spencer Mansion and RCPD are recreated on-screen with incredible accuracy and look magnificent. During an interview, Roberts revealed how he faithfully translated the locations to the big screen, saying “we worked hand in hand with Capcom. We actually got blueprints from them on the designs of the Spencer Mansion and police Department in order to recreate them as station as we could.” The mansion’s entrance hall features the iconic staircase lavished with burgundy carpet and opulent marble columns, while the RCPD building showcases the towering Goddess statue standing dominantly in Main Hall. The highly detailed set designs look identical to the locations in the games.
What made the original Resident Evil games so iconic were the impractical camera angles that concealed the shambling hordes of zombies. The intimate fear that flowed through the characters infected the player as they turned every corner and unlocked every door. Roberts’ adaptation focusses on delivering the survival horror element to ease the audience into the tension. It’s difficult to replicate the terror that emerged from savouring ammo, maintaining health, and inventory management. However, Maxime Alexandre’s (Crawl) cinematography captures the distinct Resident Evil aesthetic with unsettling perspectives and unrelenting darkness. The constant background noise of agonised groans permeates the streets of Raccoon City. Whereas the dark and claustrophobic hallways of the Spencer Mansion and RCPD heighten the foreboding sense of dread. During one particular sequence, Chris’s lighter provides the flickering flare that captures the frantic moments of an advancing zombie horde. It may be disappointing to genre fans that Roberts uses encounters with the undead sparingly. However, Welcome to Raccoon City produces tension by drawing on the strength of the games to slowly build the excitement.
Although Roberts does an incredible job translating the essence of the games into cinematic thrills, Welcome to Raccoon City relies too heavily on the audience’s deep knowledge of the franchise. Capcom’s most successful intellectual property has been growing for over two decades and has amassed a wealth of material, and for those unfamiliar with the series there’s an overwhelming amount of information to cover over a lean 107-minute runtime. It subtly portrays the Umbrella Corporation as a corrupt pharmaceutical company that’s experimenting with bio-hazardous materials without exploring their malpractice, and several characters and creatures are referenced throughout without fully integrating them in a compelling way. The opening prologue introduces the anguished character featured in the 2002 remake, Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa), who was intended to emphasise the Umbrella Corporation’s remorseless experimentation, but her screen time is disappointingly short. While Welcome to Raccoon City is designed to be the catalyst for several new entries to the series, a huge lack of context could discourage newcomers.
Ultimately, Roberts has a vastly different approach to the material than Anderson, but he succeeds in creating more faithful Resident Evil movie. And as a massive fan of the video games, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a thoughtful adaptation that does the series proud. Hopefully, newcomers won’t notice its singular dedication to the source material, as Roberts makes strange choices with its characters, and its brief runtime and lack of world-building may leave some people in the dark. Nevertheless, the barrage of Easter eggs as the characters walk around the Spencer Mansion and RCPD will entertain the existing fanbase. Similar to this year’s Mortal Kombat (2021) remake, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City lays a solid foundation to resurrect a major franchise.
GERMANY • CANADA | 2021 | 107 MINUTES | 2:39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
writer & director: Johannes Roberts.
starring: Kaya Scodelario, Avan Jogia, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Donal Logue & Neal McDonough.