I’m told that Welcome to Raccoon City, a total franchise reboot, is much more faithful to the Resident Evil games than the previous six films. I have neither seen the other films nor played the games, so I was going into this completely blind.
I think that might’ve been the best way to do it. Welcome to Raccoon City spells out everything it needs to (sometimes annoyingly so) and the story is simple to understand for us non-gamers. Claire Redfield, played by Kaya Scodelario, returns to the city she grew up in, just as shady corporation Umbrella is moving out of Raccoon City in favor of a new location. However, they’re leaving behind a (literally) toxic mess that quickly spirals out of control, transforming the town’s residents into zombies.
A well-used $25 million budget does the film a service, allowing it to really live up to its premise. There’s no shying away from violence, oftentimes cartoonish and absurdly fun: zombies munching on eyeballs, hell-hounds leaping through car windows and flaming truck drivers are some of the film’s many offerings. Not all of it has to make sense, but it brings with it a certain sense of self-awareness that we’ve been seeing a lot of in the horror genre recently. I don’t mind it — I actually think it improves Raccoon City — but I think this element of modern horror film should start to take a backseat in favor of more original ideas. And from what I hear, Raccoon City doesn’t have too many of those.
I think the film would have worked if Claire were the only main character, but that isn’t the case here. We also have Claire’s brother Chris (Robbie Amell), and Raccoon City Police officers Wesker (Tom Hopper), Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Leon (Avan Jogia) and Chief Irons (Donal Logue) along for the ride. The addition of so many factors is a bit of a distraction in the grand scheme of things, and I think a simplified version would have been better for the story and for the characters that we did get to focus on. What makes it worse is that some characters were just included as hopeful setup for a sequel — just focus on what you have, not what you can get. Unfortunately, that’s the big franchise problem for a lot of IP-based movies these days.
One thing I was initially confused about was the genre of what I was watching. The trailers couldn’t seem to decide — was Welcome to Raccoon City an action movie, or was it a straight horror? The opening scene, taking place at the city’s creepy orphanage at night, makes that decision for you. Coupled with a perfectly creepy score from Mark Korven that maintains the tension and spook factor throughout the film, Welcome to Raccoon City is a horror movie through and through, despite what the helicopter crashes and action shootouts might tell you. Sure, the ending strays into a ridiculous(ly exciting) chase sequence with a massive CGI final boss, but would it really be a video game adaptation if it didn’t?
I can’t compare it to the rest of the franchise, but Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City succeeds in what it set out to do. It’s a B-horror movie with the budget of a small blockbuster — I found myself constantly impressed with its effects (both visual and practical), and most of the jump scares really land. Call it a cheap horror trick all you like, it’s effective, and sometimes genuinely terrifying.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City — kind of a mouthful. The movie isn’t as memorable, though…mostly forgettable, but a good time in the moment. I didn’t expect it to be anything more. [Grade: B-]
Director/Writer: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Hannah John-Kamen
Rated: R for strong violence and gore, and language throughout
Fun Fact: Raccoon City, which adapts the first two games, was announced while Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was still in theaters.
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