As far as Resident Evil movies go, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City isn’t a complete disaster – but it proves to be nothing more than the lesser of many evils.
Genuine question: are we sure this kind of movie is appropriate with the pandemic going on?
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City features Kaya Scodelario as Claire Redfield, who is returning home to meet her brother Chris (Robbie Amell). With a sinister outbreak creating a slew of evil residents, she crosses over with the RPD and the special STARS team. Together, they will attempt one of the most difficult feats in existence: making a Resident Evil movie that doesn’t make everyone’s retinas bleed.
Honestly, I was surprised they were even making another one. After the past Resident Evil movies, where Paul W.S. Anderson forced us to sit through six movies worth of live action fanfiction with his wife, why would anyone still capable of coherent thought ever pitch, greenlight, and fund yet another adaptation? Then again, perhaps I’m not the one to talk, given that I actually bothered to go see this. I was never very good at making life choices.
I went into Welcome to Raccoon City with virtually no knowledge about the games. I only vaguely know about some fan-favorite characters such as Jill Valentine or Claire Redfield, that the rich corporation is evil, and that there is a giant vampire woman in one of the games that the internet went mad over. So I am not going to be able to judge how accurate an adaptation this movie is. In addition, I had very, very low expectations with the film. I never needed it to be good, just more competent than the W.S. Anderson films; believe me, that is a bar lower than a Resident Evil 2 player’s average ammunition count.
And the film certainly goes over that bar, because when it comes down to set design and atmosphere, this movie is actually pretty good. Sure, there are some cheap effects here and there, some jumpscares over there, and rather clichéd settings for horror – a creepy mansion in the middle of the woods is literally one lightning strike away from having count Dracula show up – but those all contribute to the B-grade feel that the Resident Evil games are known for.
Plus, when it actually comes down to the evil residents? Again, it actually knows what it’s doing. Whether it’s the opening act, where it shows the various people in the city that are slowly but surely succumbing to the outbreak, or during its numerous “zombies in a dark area” situations, it manages to execute them in a way that feels genuinely unnerving. A good example is – not spoiling – a certain scene involving gunfire and a lighter. Its imagery is haunting, the zombies are creepy, and it actually comes up with a lot of diverse situations for characters to get the guts scared (and eaten) out of them.
With that said, when it comes down to those characters, the movie starts to show its decaying flesh. For starters, even a Resident Evil newbie like me did a double take at the character designs. What in the world happened? When even the W.S. Anderson movies have a more accurate looking Leon and Jill, you may want to consider the possibility that the casting staff have become zombies and have lost brain functions. When you’re trying to adapt something, wouldn’t you usually try to make characters look similar to their source material? For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to make a Sonic the Hedgehog movie where the character looks realistic rather than cartoony. It would be an absolute outrage for the fans. Right?
Then again, it’s not like these characters had much to do anyhow. There is a lot of them, but that works to this film’s detriment. It is trying to be a story about a bunch of different people in different situations in Raccoon City trying to survive, and therefore can only take small dips into who they actually are. Claire, being the main main character, gets the most backstory, but it still tells me very little about what sort of person she is. The moment we might be getting into her story, the movie cuts away, leaving not much of an impression other than “hardened warrior girl with jeans and jacket #382”, a trope getting far too infectious in fiction nowadays.
Other characters fare even worse. There is a scene in the beginning for Leon (Avan Jogia)’s introduction where he is sitting at a diner, a random cop just saunters up to him and goes “Hey, you’re the guy that…” and recites his entire backstory, while Leon himself remains silent through all that like it’s the first time he’s hearing about himself. That’s the sort of writing you’re dealing with here. Same goes for any relationships or plot this movie tries to have. Since character investment is low, those feel barebones too. Certain characters and motivations show up within the first fifteen minutes, then get zero mention until at least a hour has passed. It got to the point where I forgot that these characters were in the movie, and was confused when they showed back up for an “emotional moment.”
Now, you could argue that, in a mass survival movie like this, characters only need to be vessels for horror setpieces; the basic desire of not wanting a human being to be brutally devoured should result in some amount of investment. And you wouldn’t be wrong, because I was mildly invested throughout its runtime. But that would, at best, only result in a guilty pleasure, and not something that would actually stick in my mind. It just becomes an excuse to lay out one scary scene after another with only slight justification, just like levels in a video ga – hmmmmmm…
In fact, that’s the best way to describe Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City; it’s like playing a Resident Evil game while skipping all the cutscenes. You may be having fun from a basic survival horror sense, but is there any actual engagement other than wanting to beat the level? No. Again, it’s better than the W.S. Anderson movies, given that it feels like an actual horror film rather than a Matrix and Walking Dead crossover, but that’s like saying catching the flu is better than getting the zombie virus. Sure, technically you’d be right, but I’d rather not be sick at all.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was released in theaters on November 24, 2021.