Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City movie review – Horror beats are accompanied by moments of absurdity
The film is stuck piling character upon character for much of its runtime, while also keeping the zombie-virus threat in the fray constantly.
castKaya Scodelario, Avan Jogia, Hannah John-kamen, Robbie Amell
Throughout the ‘90s, Hollywood found different ways of cashing in on the popularity of the latest behemoth in the entertainment world — video games. Some games proved themselves to be natural fits for large-screen adaptations: Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter et al. It wasn’t just the talent attached with these films, it was also about the nature of the games being adapted; some were just a better fit than others. Resident Evil, a trendsetting horror survival game that has now spanned over two decades in the gaming industry, was always a bit of a square peg in a round hole as far as Hollywood was concerned. The six Mila Jovovich/Paul W.S. Anderson movies (2002-2016) were good shoot- ‘em-ups, for the most part, but they didn’t really capture the tone or the narrative flow of the video games. Not to mention, Jovovich’s character Alice was written for the films and the original video game characters flitted in and out of her central storyline.
On that count, at least, Johannes Roberts’ Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, touted as a reboot for the franchise, is an improvement upon its predecessors. The film’s horror beats are accompanied by moments of absurdity and even farcical comedy at times. This is reflective of the video game series, which has swung between gore-heavy, white-knuckle zombie action (as seen in the more recent iterations, like Village earlier this year, or in mid-2000s versions like Resident Evil 4) and a much goofier, fast-paced, almost arcade-like tonality (Resident Evil 6).
What this also means, however, that the film is stuck piling character upon character for much of its runtime, while also keeping the zombie-virus threat in the fray constantly. Back-stories are thin all around and you might find yourself struggling to root for too many of these characters. Robbie Amell (Upload, The Flash) plays Chris Redfield, the super-soldier dispatched to investigate Raccoon City’s Spencer Mansion, the suspected epicenter of the zombie epidemic circa 1998 (did we mention this is an emphatically 90s story?).
Chris’s estranged sister Claire (Kaya Scodelario) is investigating the evil Umbrella Corporation — in this telling, rather generic villains who do generically villainous things like experimenting on little children and leaving them disfigured for….not much discernible reason. There are about half-a-dozen other characters that are ancillary to the Chris-Claire storyline, but I very much doubt you’ll find yourself caring for any of them (except perhaps the reliable Donal Logue aka Detective Harvey Bullock from Gotham, who plays a similar sort of wisecracking-cop role here)
Of course, fans of the series will know what’s coming next: Umbrella’s greed for power will lead them down the bio-weapons path and that in turn will lead to the creation of Patient Zero in the zombie apocalypse. The fun was always going to be in getting there, and Raccoon City does have a few amusing running gags and sideshows. One that I enjoyed in particular was the role played by 90s tech. Claire and her conspiracy theory-loving buddies discuss Umbrella affairs on chat rooms (of course). The way this arc is handled is both slapstick and a deadly serious allusion to more contemporary systems of disinformation. On another occasion, we see a fleeting glimpse of a secondary character playing Snake on his phone. In general, glitch-y tech causes moments of confusion, panic and occasional levity.
If only the film found enough points of difference in its core horror scenes, which are very assembly-line jump-scare stuff. Roberts’ other films, like 2016’s The Other Side of the Door, have also been marked by a similar over-reliance on tired tropes, transparently ‘ominous’ music and so on. There hasn’t really been an improvement on that front, I’m afraid. Despite a lively last 20 minutes or so, the zombie action itself is underwhelming and by-the-book. Amell, no stranger to superhero hijinks (he played the ‘meta-human’ hero Firestorm in The Flash) tries his best to liven up proceedings, but he can’t quite rescue this film from drifting into mediocrity.
Welcome to Raccoon City may yet end up doing enough to warrant a sequel and when that happens, I hope that Roberts and co. think long and hard about the filmmaking style they want to use in the zombie scenes—this is the post-Walking Dead era and audiences have seen hundreds of hours of variations on standard zombie themes. Time to level up, as their 12-year-old versions would have said over the consoles.
The film is playing in cinemas.
Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.
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