While I’m no Resident Evil specialist, I used to play the original game, back on Playstation in 1996 (what, you’re that old? Yeah, let’s carry on), and I do remember Milla Jovovich’s Alice that kicked off the film series in 2002, and they made five films, so the fan base is grounded into lore with that kind of commitment. While Jovovich’s films with Director/Writer and consequential husband Paul W. S. Anderson have currently run their course, Johannes Roberts has taken the reigns with this reboot as Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City takes us back to the origins of the franchise and, in the initial moments, I was intrigued.
Opening in flashback, we meet a young version of Claire and Chris Redfield, who are living in the disturbing Raccoon City Orphanage. When you’re beginning any film with an echoey-child-singing somewhere in the shadows of a dark house, and some unknown figure watching a young girl sleep, well, this is just another day, right? In these brief early moments, we learn that Claire is trying to make friends with this disfigured child. In connection with this, we discover that Dr William Birkin (Neal McDonough) is experimenting on the children of the orphanage, on behalf of the Umbrella Corporation, and while Claire is chosen next as a participate, she escapes before her fateful moment…
Flash-forward to 1998, and we’re in a truck with (judging by the casting from young to older) Claire (Kaya Scodelario) who’s getting a lift back to Raccoon City – Why? We’re not sure. But with the truck driver getting creepy with her and not paying attention, he hits a woman crossing the road and she’s clearly dead. While they argue, in the rain, about what the right thing to do is, she gets up in the background and walks off into the woods. At the same time, the truck drivers dog jumps out, they notice she’s vanished, and that dog starts licking the blood of whatever they hit, which suggests a zombie survivor and from this moment, my friends, your obvious predictions of plot will happen exactly as you think they will.
Now, I don’t mind a braindead movie – and here it has two meanings – but Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is so obvious that’s it’s somewhat embarrassing. While cinematographer Maxime Alexandre brings the pure atmospherics of the Resident Evil world to the fore, and this is an absolute highlight, the film that surrounds the visuals is oddly bland. There’s a touch of Blade Runner in the rain, and an on-screen title explanation about ‘what’ Raccoon City is, and while the CGI rarely works well, I felt that you should also check out Alexandre’s work on Alexandre Aja’s Crawl and Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor.
The big issue with Resident Evil: WTRC is the heavy cliché, even if it is set in 1998, that’s no excuse for obvious boys will be boys, with attitudes, a rookie cup who can’t deal with his surroundings and two hugely dislikeable cops in power overacting. One is the ‘Chief’ and doesn’t seem to care about anything, the other an idiot, and you hope they’ll meet a gruesome end later on. The only decent side is that the women are tough as well, at least, and it’s Kaya Scodelario’s Claire who endeavours to bring as much gravitas to this as she can, with Hannah John-Kamen also committing into something that barely hangs on to caring at all. I’ll give Avan Jogia his dues as well, working with what he can as the rookie cop Leon trying to find his way back to strength.
When you’re working with a script where one character says, “Don’t touch my bike when I’m away!”, you know the other character is going to touch that bike. When you’ve got sirens going on around this deserted town, and I honestly have no idea why anyone is there when it’s barely populated, then any viability of reality and connecting to it is difficult to muster. They’ve also got a conspiracy theorist character, an evil Doctor, people who are clearly affected by some kind of testing or nuclear fallout so, let’s be blunt, why are other people even coming to this town, or staying? Yes, I appreciate this is the genre.
Heading back to the visuals for a moment, I enjoyed the style and homage to the original games, and that works. I, for one, am a fan of the Raccoon City Police (RCP) but would have welcomed actual Raccoon Police, real raccoons that is, policing the police and in this situation? I think they would have absolutely ruled the town. Anyway, before I fall into pure sarcasm (and actual hope), my only other positives are when it stops trying to be clever and gets into survival horror. There’s an early scene where the ‘Chief’ tries to escape town but is trapped by some type of military shutdown. This is shot POV, and it seriously ramps up the tension and feels real, which is something important this CGI-layered film forgets about on multiple occasions.
If you make it, do take in the mid-credits scene for possible future kicks, and the three extras – but where’s the blooper reel? – that dives into the DNA of Resident Evil, investigates the Cops, Corpses and Chaos of the movie, alongside the Zombies, Lickers and the Horrors they try to show us. And this all go beyond the disappointing wider nature of the picture.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City has no subtle smartness and while I didn’t believe it’d be mind-blowing, I think pun is intended, it’s disappointingly mind-numbingly meaningless instead.