It’s no secret that Resident Evil has already been put through the wringer due to its storied live-action saga at the hands of Milla Jovovich and Paul W. S. Anderson. The first film withstanding, which I have decided wasn’t that bad, the films were considered universally dreadful and the only thing worse since put to celluloid by two consenting adults was Hulk Hogan’s sex tape.
Along comes Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, directed by Johannes Roberts, which does achieve its goal of better adapting the source material on which it’s based, but we were still left asking ourselves whether it was better or worse for it. For a film that’s about Raccoon City and our heroes escaping its poisonous clutches over the course of one frantic night, I do wish they got out of dodge about an hour sooner—and the film’s only 107 minutes long.
While my experience with Resident Evil is limited to its more recent outings starring Ethan Winters, I’m familiar with several of the touchstone moments from the classic games—such as the iconic turning head reveal of the first undead in the Spencer Mansion’s dining hall—which this film manages to recreate pretty faithfully. This film combines the first two games into one tight, nonsensical package as, beyond the key moments that fans will recognise, there’s hardly any semblance of a plot. Instead, the film lurches from set piece to set piece, turning to wink at white-knuckled Resi fans all the way.
Not everything is by the books, however, as Leon’s holding cell deep and meaningful doesn’t amount to Tyrant bursting through the wall like the Kool-Aid mascot, and Wesker’s heel turn—which is justified in-game—feels unearned and odd here. These creative liberties don’t necessarily hamper the things this film does well, but it does raise questions of where the sequel could go from here. With the city levelled by Umbrella in the last act, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever see Nemesis in future instalments. That is unless they go off-script in a big way.
I do believe the film was helmed well enough by Roberts, whose experience with horror-thrillers held him in good stead here. I got a sense of classic, decades-old horror from the opening at the orphanage, but the film found it hard to strike the balance of action and horror throughout the runtime. When you consider they’ve tried to inject humour in too, it’s easy to see why the tone felt all over the place. The scene where Leon dozes off to the nineties pop classic “Crush” by Jennifer Paige only for the fuel truck to jackknife and explode outside the station felt like the epitome of this tonal mess. There are a few good moments—the boy hiding under the table got me good—but the scares largely fell by the wayside in lieu of fairly serviceable action.
Considering the film’s shoestring budget, it’s unreasonable to expect everything to look entirely on-point. I do think, and it’s true of the practical effects in general, the make-up across the board was pretty great, particularly Lisa Trevor’s twisted visage, whereas the generated imagery was hurt by budgetary constraints. It wasn’t always bad, William Burke’s mutation did look particularly cool but it took everything I had to not laugh out loud at pretty much any explosion or zombie dog put on screen.
The film’s cast was a genuine mixed bag. I liked certain interpretations, such as the Redfields themselves, however, I felt Jill Valentine and Leon S. Kennedy, portrayed by Hannah John-Kamen and Avan Jogia respectively, were dealt bad hands, especially the latter. In the games he’s a resilient rookie cop, here he’s the butt of every joke and I feel like they did him dirty. And for a guy who, I feel, has been good in The Umbrella Academy for a couple of seasons, Tom Hopper’s turn as Wesker is nothing short of dreadful.
And the mid-credits scene he strongly features in—while not directly his fault—took this movie down a whole point. It’s that bad.
Because of the seemingly directionless narrative and abhorrent dialogue, it’s hard to sell this as a better film outright over the original Paul W. S. Anderson adaptation, though I think it is a better Resident Evil film. It has such an earnest desire to take all of the moments fans adore from the first two games and put them on the silver screen and I believe it does that, even if it’s to the detriment of every other facet of the film.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a film that’ll be enjoyed by hardcore fans of the series. Without that acquired knowledge, it'll be a tough slog filling in the blanks and connecting the dots of the plot and its wafer-thin characters. I did enjoy the film’s desire to recreate the series’ iconic moments and it’s fun how it establishes itself in time—“Crush” by Jennifer Paige withstanding.
Recreates iconic moments from the games well
Does a good job grounding itself in the nineties
Feels like it's shot like a classic horror film
Some woeful dialogue and performances
Doesn't find the right tonal balance
Snuffs out hope of Nemesis in a sequel—provided they follow the games