Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a strange beast, given its lineage and expectations. Despite the previous Resident Evil cinematic universe being somewhat popular (and very profitable), fans knew a better and more faithful adaptation of Capcom’s survival-horror franchise was always possible, but the first trailers for it didn’t raise anyone’s hopes, drawing scorn and ridicule from even the most patient of fans, showcasing ludicrously inappropriate casting and laughably bad special effects. Surely, this was just another straight-to-Netflix movie that would get heavily advertised on playlists and disappear as quickly as it came.
I was shocked to see it released in theaters, where it quickly died. Now, like an undead corpse, it’s been resurrected for digital streaming to shamble along a little longer. Have mercy.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City attempts to amalgamate the plots from the first two games in the series, even retaining their late-90s time period. You’ll know it’s the 90s because nobody has a cell phone, the internet is strange and kooky (what’s a chatroom?), and lots of bottom-tier pop hits keep playing to remind you.
We first come across siblings Claire Redfield (Lauren Bill) and older brother Chris (Daxton Grey Gujral) as kids living at the Raccoon City Orphanage, a nasty place run by the Umbrella Corporation where orphans are experimented on by the nastier Dr. William Birkin (Neal McDonough). When Claire is “selected” to be his next victim she manages to escape, leaving Chris to be raised by the mad Doc and Umbrella. She saw it on the internet, so it’s gotta be true!
Years later, a fully grown Claire (Kaya Scodelario) returns to Raccoon City on a dark and stormy night, seeking out equally grown brother (Robbie Amell), now a member of STARS Alpha Team, to help reveal the nefarious truths behind Umbrella’s experimentations to the world.
Elsewhere, RCPD rookie Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) is razzied by his fellow officers, including Stars members Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper). Their bonding is interrupted when the group is called back to the station by a frazzled Chief Brian Irons (Donal Logue), who sends them off to hunt down missing Bravo team members who were last heard from investigating a body found at the mysterious Spencer Mansion, leaving Kennedy to watch the police station by himself. But the phones suddenly go silent and the Chief makes a run for it… what could possibly go wrong?
Don’t know what the Spencer Mansion is? Don’t worry, the film will explain. It explains everything. Every character is “announced” by name and ridiculous narrative dumps explaining their entire backstories for those who might be confused. Listening to their dialogue felt like a cheese grater slowly scraping away layers of my brain. At one point a character (no spoilers) is resurrected, only to blurt out, “I thought I was dead.” Yes, this is a real line of dialogue from a real movie.
What can I say about the performances? They’re all bad, across the board, some worse than others but nobody coming out clean. It doesn’t help that everyone is terribly miscast, but hiring uncharismatic actors who don’t look anything like the characters they’re supposed to portray doesn’t help. I’m not sure what direction they were given, if any, but bad line readings, inconsistent accents, blank stares… it’s all so terrible you feel embarrassed this will be on their resumes. More than anyone, Tom Hopper’s take on Albert Wesker really stands out for all the wrong reasons.
At least the movie is peppered with tons of Resident Evil Easter eggs for fans to spot and guffaw over. And there’s plenty to spot: snakes and sharks, creepy kids, zombie dogs, rotting crows, grenade launchers, the Moonlight Sonata, lickers, eyeballs sprouting from shoulders…it’s all here. I seriously think the movie was sold more as a fan-service scavenger hunt than an actual cinematic experience, like the producers made a checklist of key events from the games and worked backwards from there, using poorly written narrative like glue to hold it all together.
Which begs the question: who is this movie for? It says something when the entire premise of your film hinges on its preexisting fanbase recognizing these stories and characters, only to insult them with such stupidity. It’s strange, as the film goes to such great lengths to mimic key moments from the games so exactly to just say “the hell with it” with the characters.
What’s going on with the Resident Evil franchise, anyway? Just this year we had the critically-acclaimed Resident Evil Village game and the forgettable Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness animated series on Netflix, each presenting entirely different takes on its own lineage. Welcome to Raccoon City is the third, and by far the most incoherent, of the bunch. Doesn’t Capcom have a franchise bible to keep track of things, or to maintain some consistency between interpretations? The Resident Evil franchise isn’t a shared, let alone cinematic, universe; it’s a multiverse of nonsense.
Paul W. S. Anderson’s Milla Jovovich-fronted series started off with a bang and ran for nearly 20 years, producing a half-dozen films of diminishing, often ludicrous quality. But at least there were a few sparks of creativity sputtering between the crap. Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) both writes and directs, meaning there’s nobody else to blame for the bad choices made throughout. Which is really a shame because so much of the film actually “looks” the part with interesting backdrops and color saturation that might have worked in more capable hands.
But then the “special” effects take over, and they are terrible. It’s impossible to feel any tension when every bloody effect is filtered with amateurish, low-grade CGI that somehow makes these visuals look so much worse than the actual games. When the famous licker appears I nearly died laughing, almost like the film is copying the bad CGI from the 90s era it’s taking place in.
Worse, there’s no effort made to hold any suspense, something you don’t need big-budget effects for. Roberts’ direction is so misplaced it’s almost porno-like in how stilted it is. There’s a scene that’s clearly trying to copy the unseen jump-scares from Neil Marshall’s vastly superior The Descent, where lighting alone brings the chills, but such a simple cinematic trick is ruined by cameras that linger too long, completely misjudging what’s supposed to be scary.
Another has a blood-slopping zombie emerge from a jail cell in slow-motion and accompanied by thudding music. It’s by far the most effective and scary moment in the movie, but by this point we’ve seen several zombies already… this is the kind of scene you choose to reveal the zombies, not just show another one. Not helping is Mark Korven’s ‘wah-wah’ chanting score, which almost sounds like a parody of what creepy sounds like.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a masterclass in bad direction, bad acting, bad casting, and badly misinterpreting the original games in ways that will satisfy nobody. Like the Mortal Kombat reboot from earlier this year, these newer videogame adaptations seem more interested in recreating the aesthetics of their source material and not the essence of what made them so much fun in the first place. After Netflix’s butchery of Cowboy Bebop and this travesty, there’s a case to be made that we shouldn’t be looking to Hollywood to validate content anymore.