Over half a decade ago, we said farewell to one of cinema’s loudest film franchise. Second only to perhaps Michael Bay’s teeth-shatteringly dumb “Transformers” pentology. In any case, we honestly thought “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” would indeed be the last time we would see or hear of a live-action version of the popular video game franchise. But much like the flesh-eating T-virus infected, the franchise has roared back to life with a reboot which promises to be more faithful to its original source material. Enter “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City”.
To be fair, the “Resident Evil” game franchise has proven to be just as tonally inconsistent as the films. Oscillating from the quiet, claustrophobic tension of the first “Resident Evil” to shooting rockets at zombie kaijus in “Resident Evil 5”. Director Johannes Roberts assures that this is indeed a return to its corridor-shooter, horror roots. So will “Raccoon City” do right by fans or will it be yet another, brainless cashgrab? Let’s find out.
Beyond perhaps the inclusion of the Umbrella Corporation and a handful of characters from the original games, there’s little in “Raccoon City” that separates it from its other zombie-flick cousins. There are intersecting stories of corporate conspiracy, the Redfield siblings and a washed-up cop, Leon S. Kennedy. It doesn’t last long though for all that context to be thrown out of the window. The plot soon devolves into a race against time to get out of Raccoon City before the Umbrella Corporation blows it all to kingdom come.
Call us crazy but that sounds an awful like the plot to Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” doesn’t it? That being said, “Raccoon City” does have a fun mad scientist angle going for it. Things really ramp up when the STARS team enters the Spencer mansion. From then on, the film proceeds to burst from its thinly veiled small-town horror antics to the usual sci-fi monster shenanigans fans of the previous “Resident Evil” franchise have come to know and love. As a video game film, it has enough homages and visual Easter eggs to keep fans engaged throughout its latter half.
For the rest of us, the film feels like a wet bag of expository guts waiting to explode all over our faces. The film can barely contain its excitement in wheeling the audience through one loud, jump-scare infested sequence after the next. Which is both the film’s strength and its weakness. On one hand, you never quite have enough time to soak in how mediocre and uninspiring it all is. The trade-off is that the characters barely have any time to be developed beyond occasional flashbacks and very loud expository dialogue. It wears you down till you finally accept the plain and simple fact: this film is objectively not good.
Once that fact has sunk in, that’s when you can truly begin to enjoy “Raccoon City” as a hilarious, high-budget parody of what the first two video games were. Solid horror games built on the eerie, atmospheric tension of unnerving stillness shattered by the sudden but slow shambles of the infected. Over time, a distinct sense of paranoia creeps over you. None of that is present here, what you get is an R-rated cartoon full of cardboard characters waiting to either die, shoot out a cheesy one-liner or get turned into a horrible monster.
Speaking of horrible monsters, there are moments in “Raccoon City” when it feels like the audience is transported back in time to the early 2000s. The creature design for the human zombies are woefully pathetic. It looked as if someone gave them black-contact lenses and threw some Halloween decorations on them before sending them on set. The moment a licker showed up on screen, we took a moment to marvel at how remarkably awful it looked. In our mind’s eye, we could see the PS2 boot-up sequence.
The film’s bombastic loud-and-proud approach certainly doesn’t add any creep factor to them. Instead of instilling us with dread, they only serve to highlight the film’s low production budget. Which by the way is somehow lower that the first film in the original series! If films like “It Follows”, “Don’t Breathe” and “Get Out” have taught us anything is that great horror films are not defined by how much money they can throw at the screen. Rather, it’s reliant on the vision of the director, strong performances and clever use of camerawork and editing. “Raccoon City” has neither going for it.
On the upside, it looks like the actors are having the time of their lives. Chewing through scenery faster than termites in a woodshop. Kaya Scodelario and Robbie Amell as Claire and Chris Redfield’s familial struggle feels more suited for a fan-film or an after-hours soap opera pilot than a film with the legitimate rights to the “Resident Evil” property. Avan Jogia’s Leon S. Kennedy is an interesting take on the character. The Leon we see here is a far more inexperienced version of the character than his video game counterpart. We just wish every character interaction we’ve seen with Leon wouldn’t involve other people just bringing past transgressions. Seriously, who does that?
Hannah John-Kamen’s Jill Valentine breaks up the penny-dime melancholy with her chipper, hyper-competent disposition. Delivering light-hearted jabs and quips whenever the plot requires some comic relief. The film’s portrayal of the enigmatic and deadly double-agent Albert Wesker with Tom Hopper’s stereotypical military-man bravado is disappointing to say the least. Say what you want about the Wesker we saw in “Resident Evil: Afterlife” but at least he had those shades on.
Johannes Roberts’ “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is more a return to Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s rendition of the film franchise than the original game’s creative roots. In spite of its deliberate use of characters and locations, the film does little to distinguish itself from any other undead horror flick post 2000s. Whatever attempt at character development or competent horror is very quickly drown out by a hail of obnoxious gunfire, the grunting undead and laughable dialogue. You don’t have to be brain-dead to enjoy it but it certainly helps.
You can now catch “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” in theaters today!
"Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" Review
Johannes Roberts' "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" is more a return to Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich's rendition of the film franchise than the original game's creative roots. In spite of its deliberate use of characters and locations, the film does little to distinguish itself from any other undead horror flick post 2000s. Whatever attempt at character development or competent horror is very quickly drown out by a hail of obnoxious gunfire, the grunting undead and laughable dialogue.
- "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" Review