Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
2021, R, 107 min. Directed by Johannes Roberts. Starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Dec. 3, 2021
With Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, the reins of the cinematic adaptations of the hugely popular Capcom horror games are passed from one B-movie auteur to another.
The initial run of films that ran from 2002 through 2016 were mostly spearheaded by husband-and-wife filmmaking duo Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich. They were also decidedly not indebted to the games at all past certain characters, locales, and broad plot points. Instead of replicating the moody tension and dread, they were concerned with slick gunplay and grandiose action that led to an initial mixed reception but has given way to certain cult acclaim (you should go watch Retribution again with an open mind).
It’s no real shock that fans have long clamored for a “proper” adaptation in line with what they expected the first time around. Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey at Night) now helms the reboot that seeks to do just that. Blending the plots of the first and second games together, this is an adaptation founded on fan service, perhaps to a fault.
If there’s one thing that translates over, it’s the atmosphere. Roberts is a skilled craftsman of unpretentious genre schlock in his own right, and he sets an accurate tone introducing the audience to his Raccoon City. Practically deserted, constantly raining, and with something seriously, deadly wrong underneath as the corrupt Umbrella Corporation has left it to rot and die, along with all of their savage experiments. Claire Redfield (Scodelario) experiences it all firsthand as she comes riding into town looking for her brother, Chris (Amell), and they try to make it through the night with a population quickly mutating into the undead.
The film hits its most proficient stride during this setup through the halfway mark, replicating the isolated small-town terror of the games while reveling in some of its unintentional camp. It’s creepy and tense but admirably self-aware, framing shots with an occasional Dutch angle or split diopter and accompanying scenes with sporadic, joyous soundtrack cues – one scene featuring “Crush” by Jennifer Paige is a small stroke of genius. The survival horror aspects are sporadically well-realized, too; replicating the games, yes, but also feeling indebted to the likes of Romero and Carpenter in their heydays.
Though, for how often this captures the game’s spirit, it also feels in over its head by trying to adhere to fan expectations while simultaneously taking its own strides. The plot takes certain liberties by reorienting fan-favorite characters to try and make the amalgamation work, mostly in vain. The likes of Jill Valentine (John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Hopper), and Leon Kennedy (Jogia) are all present and split time between the first game’s Spencer Mansion and the second’s police precinct, both lovingly re-created. The scattershot narrative jumps back and forth between them aimlessly, and with no clear effort to give any of these characters any more dimension than they had in the games, except for the case of Leon, who’s lazily relegated to a miserable and useless quippy comic relief guy.
It barrels toward a supremely rushed third act that’s more preoccupied with establishing threads for future installments than it is with ending this one with the real bang it needed. Instead it flatlines, all of its franchise reverence proving futile within a messy narrative. It’s not terrible as far as video game adaptations go, but as with many of them you’ll be wondering what the point is when a superior experience already exists.
Read our interview with director Johannes Roberts, “Welcome to Raccoon City (Hope You Survive the Experience),” at austinchronicle.com/screens.