Synopsis – Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City.
My Take – Though filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films led by his wife Milla Jovovich have been generally known to be universally detested, especially by infuriated die-hard fans of the games who kept complaining how much each entry distanced itself from the 25-year-old survival horror series, only retaining the basic aura and key character references.
Yet, one can’t deny the fact that the outlandish, nonsensical action-horror six-film series, which lasted through 15 years, also had plenty of fans, as evidenced by a box office haul in excess of $1.2 billion making it the highest-grossing string of video game adaptations ever.
However, with this latest entry, filmmaker Johannes Roberts (Strangers: Prey at Night, 47 Meters Down), with an aim to bring those gamer fans on board, reboots the franchise, adapts the stories of the first two Resident Evil games, taking its characters to the beginning of the outbreak. But most importantly, by forgoing the action oriented set up of the previous films, director Roberts wholeheartedly sets the film back into its horror roots with its tone, direction, music, set pieces and even throws in some jump scares for good measure.
And while he does deserve some credit for sticking much closely to the source material than the Paul W.S. Anderson films and for littering almost every frame with Easter eggs, unfortunately, due to its short run time, a rushed third act, and lack of clearer elements, the film just ends up feeling generic and unsatisfying, at least from the wider audience stand view.
Sure, the film is never not engaging and serves as decent fun for fans of the games, but it also feels like there is a lot director Roberts wants to do and in attempting to do everything at once, it all becomes under-baked and dull. In comparison, at least it’s better than Afterlife (2010) and Retribution (2012), that’s something right.
Set in 1998, the story follows Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), who returns to Raccoon City, where she grew up in an orphanage with her older brother Chris (Robbie Amell), under the care of William Birkin (Neal McDonough), a scientist working for the Umbrella Corporation, a giant pharmaceutical company deeply rooted in the town.
After staying estranged for five years, Claire finally seems to have proof that Umbrella has been experimenting with its residents, and hopes to convince Chris, who is now a cop, about the same. However, when she arrives she finds the town thrust into bankruptcy, desolation, and a strange illness seems to be spreading through it.
Meanwhile, Chris and his RPD coworkers, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), Richard Aiken (Chad Rook), and helicopter pilot Brad Vickers (Nathan Dales) are sent to search for the missing Bravo team who were sent to the Spencer Mansion, owned by the creator of the Umbrella Corporation, to investigate a report of a dead body. As the town’s citizens begins to mutate into zombie like creatures, Claire is forced to team up with rookie officer Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) and Chief Brian Irons (Donal Logue) to find Chris and get out of town.
In comparison, while Anderson’s films where firmly in blockbuster territory, director Roberts’ films feels a little locked-down, small with each narrative strand a bit under-cooked in its own right. It also doesn’t help that the film struggles with poor pacing and the sheer amount of subplots that it wants to focus on without giving enough care to any of them.
However, the film is never outright bad, as genuinely found myself enjoying some moments here and there, and I often found myself wishing for more screen time that wasn’t there. But for all of its limitations and points of departure from the previous series, though, the film maintains that lineage of B-films made with skill.
Director Roberts evokes effective atmosphere at points. The slowly poisoned citizens of Raccoon City are a disturbing sight for a video game film and far more compelling than the slow-moving monsters that comprise most of the previous films.
Even the mansion looks legitimately great, with a few amazing moments of genuine fear and panic as the dead seemingly materialize out of the darkness around the protagonists, while on the contrast, the police station feels claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing. The difference comes more from its tone, and especially from the textures of Raccoon City itself.
Director Roberts also presents familiar images in novel ways. Like staging a particular zombie attack in abstract flashes, even a shot designed to mimic a game’s first-person-shooter vantage, and of course the climactic monster mutation is memorably grotesque. His style keeps the film entertaining even as the story moves in predictable circles, i.e. investigate, run from zombies, look for other people, investigated, and shoot at anything that moves.
The cast is effective in their own right, with each bringing in a solid performance, even though none of the characters bring the quality and commanding physicality of Milla Jovovich‘s Alice. Kaya Scodelario gives Claire a likable intensity, and bounces it off well with Robbie Amell.
Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Donal Logue, and Avan Jogia fit well into fictional character counterparts. Lily Gao appears only the mid-credits scene. While Neal McDonough hams it up as a loving dad and maniacal scientist. On the whole, ‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’ is a watchable but flawed reboot that wisely trades action for horror.
Directed – Johannes Roberts
Rated – R
Run Time – 107 minutes