As a longtime fan of the Resident Evil video games, I have been anxiously awaiting a proper live-action film that would capture the magic and terror of the series. Writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson gave it the old college try, directing four of the six previous installments and writing all. While those movies do indeed have some good qualities (Milla Jovovich! Occasional practical effects! Strong action sequences!), they completely lack the horror bite and focus more on action. This is without mentioning their narrative is almost entirely unrelated to the video games, throwing in characters and monsters that gamers will recognize and assuming this will be enough. For awhile, it indeed was enough to garner over a billion dollars worldwide, earning several titles like ‘highest grossing film series based on a video game,’ ‘highest grossing zombie film series,’ and ‘highest grossing horror film series.’ Once Resident Evil: The Final Chapter rolled around, serving as one big slap in the face to the faithful, the chapter was closed on the Anderson films definitively. Now, five years later, the time is nigh for a proper reboot titled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City that takes us back to the streets of Raccoon City and into game-accurate settings like the Raccoon City Police Department and the Spencer Mansion. Who is ready for a Jill Sandwich?
Set in 1998, Raccoon City is no longer the booming metropolis it once was. The Umbrella Corporation, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, is relocating from Raccoon, leaving a ghost town behind and “those too poor to leave,” as a bubble of opening text informs us. Tonight, trouble is brewing. Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) hitches a ride into town with vital information about Umbrella for her brother, Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), who she has not spoken to in over five years. Chief Irons (Donal Logue) meanwhile berates his Alpha team, including hot-mess alcoholic rookie, Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia). Irons dispatches Chris and his partner, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), along with Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), Richard Aiken (Chad Rook) and pilot Brad Vickers (Nathan Dales) off to the Arklay Mountains to investigate the complete disappearance of the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team. That team, dispatched earlier in the day for the reporting of murders at the mysterious Spencer Mansion, has lost all radio contact. Evil looms as an outbreak spreads through the water supply. The survivors must work together to discover the horrifying truth about Umbrella—and to make it through the night alive.
I will never forget the first time I played a Resident Evil game. With my brand new Nintendo 64 system at my side, I convinced my on-the-fence parents to let me rent Resident Evil 2 from our local video store, and the rest is history. From the second it begins, writer/director Johannes Roberts brought me back to that feeling of dread and excitement, completely free of a controller. The atmosphere and the story are here in spades. Channeling classical horror over action hijinks, Welcome to Raccoon City takes its time establishing our world, and introducing each colorful character before exploding with bursts of gunfire and vibrant gore. I have no doubt that some fans will take issue with the physical appearance of certain characters not being entirely reflective of their game counterparts. I adored that some are slavishly faithful, while others have been gently tweaked with different edges. My favorites were a trio of great performances: this newer, clumsier and charismatic version of Leon, played by Avan Jogia with aplomb; Kaya Scodelario’s sassy and committed depiction of Claire Redfield; and Robbie Amell’s extremely game-accurate, headstrong Chris Redfield. Claire, Chris, and Jill Valentine are the most like their in-game personas.
In my personal opinion, this is the Resident Evil we deserved all along. I was in awe at some of the set design, so close to the game that I could envision virtually stepping through it. The campy throwback horror tone of the games has been recaptured. Boss-monsters Lisa and William Burkin are dazzlingly realized, as are zombie dogs, crows, and eerie human-zombies. As the Big Bad, Neal McDonough has never been this campy or fun. While it takes a bit of time to get into the gore, this allows for the final act to be completely overloaded with horror action violence. This is particularly prevalent in the relentless scenes set at the Spencer Mansion. Stuffed to the brim with Easter egg references to the series, it became a joy to spot each one. Chris’ lighter makes a pivotal display that is also one of the most visually-arresting sequences in the entire movie. Everything from the Ashford Twins, dialogue about giant snakes, and individual character quirks are prevalent, making the attention to detail something that quite sets Welcome to Raccoon City apart from the others. Do not miss the mid-credits scene, lest you miss an especially delicious Resident Evil 2 nod. One can truly tell that Johannes Roberts is a Resident Evil player.
With such a solid setup, I would absolutely love to see a sequel; I have no doubt that the director would be interested in making one considering the characters have now all been perfectly established. Some may prefer bold action, clones, trips to The Hive, and occasional hat-tips to the lore. For others, myself included, we are perfectly content to stick with 90s vibes, accurate Umbrella lore, boss battles, and rocket launchers. Fans of the Resident Evil games will be over-the-moon for this heavenly hunk of horror nostalgia, an adoring tribute that serves as a love letter to the entire series.
Barricade the windows—Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City starts the outbreak when it hits theaters exclusively on Wednesday, November 23rd.