‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’ Review: Faithful Aspects, Frustrating Execution
By Daniel Rester
A few years have gone by since Paul W.S. Anderson wrapped up his six-film Resident Evil series, which consists of chaotic horror-action movies very loosely based on the video game series. Some of those films are okay (and some awful), but they never really tap into the atmosphere of the games and instead focus on Anderson’s Alice character played by Milla Jovovich. Now comes Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a new adaptation that has been marketing itself as being more faithful to the source material and tone of the games. And while it does align itself more with the games, the end result of this reboot unfortunately comes across as frustrating.
Writer-director Johannes Roberts sets the story in 1998 and mashes pieces of the first two games together. We follow Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario, a solid Claire choice) as she returns to her childhood town of Raccoon City to warn her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) of dangers involving pharmaceutical company Umbrella. Chris soon joins his fellow STARS cops to investigate an old place called the Spencer Mansion.
As Chris, Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), and Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) search for missing team members in the isolated mansion, Claire teams up with rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) to explore her and Chris’ old orphanage. Both groups come across zombified people and other threats related to Umbrella. As Umbrella soldiers move into the city, the heroes fight to uncover the truth before the soldiers can eliminate them.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City gives fans of the games a lot of cool visual Easter eggs, with the entrances to the mansion and police station settings particularly spot-on in design. Tragic character Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa) from the 2002 remake of the first game even makes an appearance. Roberts clearly has an admiration for the games and attempts to translate that love into a live-action film.
Unfortunately, Roberts doesn’t succeed altogether at making that translation interesting for fans of the games or casual moviegoers. While fans of the games (like myself) will enjoy some of the faithful nods, they’ll also be left scratching their heads by some of the changes. Average moviegoers, meanwhile, will be even more in the dark as the surface of the film will be clunky without having built-in knowledge of certain events and characters. The end result is a hodgepodge of fan service and familiar horror trappings.
Trying to adapt the first two games into one film under two hours was a big mistake; just the first game deserves its own ten-hour miniseries to probably really work. There are too many lead characters who don’t get enough development as a result. After the first act drags with flashbacks involving Chris and Claire, the pacing starts to feel off in other ways as the second act hops back and forth between the city and the mansion. Instead of maintaining suspense in particular settings, Roberts favors transitioning between the two plot threads often and capping off scenes with loud and obvious scares. The editing feels messy as a result and the noise does not equal tension. Bad CGI dogs don’t help either.
There is one scene involving Chris that is genuinely exciting and creepy though. He can only rely on his lighter and muzzle flashes to see the zombies. The scene has a sense of surprise and energy that most of the other scenes lack.
The cast of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is serviceable, with Scodelario easily the MVP as Claire (wearing the red jacket well and bringing toughness to the character). Mazepa also makes Lisa Trevor a looming figure throughout. Jogia and Hopper feel completely miscast as Leon and Wesker, though. Nobody is terrible here, but Roberts also doesn’t do them any favors with his written dialogue.
Roberts’ film is watchable throughout and even skillfully staged at times. It brings some elements from the games to the screen that Anderson had mishandled or avoided before. But it also feels quite disjointed and lacks sustained suspense and effective scares. It could really use a green herb to give it some life.
My Grade: 5.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: C+)
Running Time: 1h 47min