Cinematic adaptations of videogames are a taller order than they let on. If you wanted to consume a game like a watchable narrative, YouTube houses countless splicings of gameplay footage and cut scenes. The real trick is plucking enough of a videogame’s DNA and spinning it into a brand-new work. For better or for worse, we’ve gotten film adaptations of Tomb Raider, Warcraft, Werewolves Within, Silent Hill, and six (now seven) of Resident Evil. Each took on different spreads of creative licenses to varying affect. Now, in the era of the reboot, comes Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a fresh take on adapting the videogame that spits out fan-favorite references and a lot of blood.
Gone is the bombastic collection of glowing set pieces from the original series. They’ve been traded in for distinctly 2000s style horror that takes place at night in the rain. Instead of the hero engaging in The Matrix style fights, they’re throwing zombies off of them with their hands. Writer/ Director, Johannes Roberts, wants you to know this is back to videogame continuity basics, and he does so by having each character introduce themselves the second they’re in frame.
Among those characters, the Redfields. Chris (Robbie Amell) and Claire (Kaya Scodelario) spent their youth in the Raccoon City orphanage. Claire ran away after a traumatic experience and Chris grew up to join the Raccoon Police Department like a Raccoon City golden boy. Now, in 1998, Claire visits her estranged sibling when she receives warning in an online chat room (“what the hell is a chat room?” Chris wonders) that Umbrella Corporation, the pharmaceutical company that provided most of the jobs in their hometown, wasn’t just relocating operations, but had poisoned the inhabitants. Chris, reluctant to buy into the seemingly unhinged fears of the internet conspiracy theorist, rushes to his precinct when alarm bells begin to blare. Chris’ colleagues attempt to figure out the source of the alarms while Claire confirms her suspicions. Before long, the only remaining healthy people in the city, the cops, are investigating deaths at the Spencer mansion, or are holing up in the police station, plotting their way out of town and away from the diseased hoards. As they protect themselves from the infected inhabitants of the dilapidated town, Umbrella’s sinister secrets are slowly revealed. Planning to level the city, Umbrella has started a ticking clock for anyone who hopes to escape. The mysterious William Birkin (Neal McDonough) is not willing to leave his life’s work (the T-virus and G-virus) behind, while the rest of the heroes are doing anything to get out alive.
Roberts pulled characters and plot points right from the games, leaving a trail of easter eggs and character reveals fans should latch onto. For those familiar, they’ll see scares and plot points a few beats before they happen (knowing exactly what a cheeseburger or a Doberman means is next), and for others, the well-timed scares will induce shocks and jumps. Game style gags add some fun twists to the spooky moments like a gun used as a light source and POV shots during action scenes (Chris Redfield seems to be an expert level button masher). The sets are gorgeous for anyone to take in, but those who can pick apart the details in the recreations of the police station and the Spencer mansion will gain a lot more by looking past the characters and into the background.
If there’s a downside to throwing existing canon into a contained hour and forty-seven minutes, it’s that there’s not much time for character development. More time is spent peppering in recognizable names than filling in any backstory beyond Claire’s grim flashbacks. Specifically, characters like Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) could have benefited from a bit more than googly eyes to sell the hurt of the later betrayal.
By taking the story we’ve previously see descend into a post-apocalyptic action-sci-fi horror show back to the pre-apocalyptic dilapidated city, Roberts has effectively re-grounded the tale, telling it from a brand-new perspective. It benefits from letting the story of Umbrella breathe, showcasing the subtle evil of a corporation that levels a town before leaving it for dead.
But all the videogame lore and style doesn’t distract from a dope zombie movie. Each monster is more terrifying than the last, and the creepy shots of forming hordes and slowly decaying humans make for just delicious zombie fare. Roberts uses classic zombie movie tropes and shots, like underground escape routes and flimsily locked fences, delivering by-the-numbers scenes that will satiate anyone out for flesh and blood. Exploiting the 90s setting not just for a lack of cell phones, Roberts utilizes the old needle drop for Shaun of the Dead like action scenes like “Anyway You Want It” playing over gory chaos.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City isn’t perfect by any stretch. Not all the jokes land, the timing and pacing are both a bit off, and it’s overstuffed with characters that feel one-dimensional if you’ve never heard of them before. But this reboot consciously shed the (pretty wonderful) original film franchise in favor of doing something brand new with the source material: it made a solid horror film out of an existing canon and delivered some zombie movie magic. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a good zombie movie for anyone, and an even better one for fans of the games.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is in theaters November 24, 2021