[Review] ‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’ Embraces Horror With Mostly Faithful Video Game Remix

The Resident Evil films evolved from a barely recognizable adaptation of the video games into an action sci-fi series. It emphasized the action, growing further and further away from anything resembling the games’ plotlines. Writer/Director Johannes Roberts, with Paul W.S. Anderson executive producing, offers a reboot that goes back to the beginning. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City remixes the first two games in Capcom’s popular game series, giving a highlight reel that delivers on iconic moments, intense horror sequences, and the clunky dialogue fans come to expect.

The plot overlays the events of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, with S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team sent to the Spencer Mansion to find the missing Bravo team. Meanwhile, Claire Redfield (Kaya Scoledario) finds herself teaming up with rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) while on a personal search mission. Both parties face unspeakable terror thanks to an outbreak in the city. None are aware that corrupt pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella aims to contain the outbreak by destroying the town come dawn.

Roberts painstakingly recreates many iconic moments and set pieces from the beloved video games but remixes it enough to keep fans on their toes. Personalities and motivations change dramatically for favorite characters. Kennedy, for example, is a complete screw-up; he’s so boneheaded and terrible at his job that dad had to use his pull to get him even the most unwanted assignment of Raccoon City. Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) lacks a strong bond with estranged sister Claire and pines after wild card Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen). She, in turn, likes the brawny yet non-threatening Wesker (Tom Hopper). These tweaks shape the story in surprising ways and occasionally provide emotional stakes through a revolving door of set pieces and thrilling horror sequences.

Production designer Jennifer Spence, who deserves far more attention and acclaim for her horror work, contributes stunning and highly detailed sets lifted straight out of the video games. Roberts sneaks in references and nods for fans to pick up on, too. More importantly, the filmmaker focuses on delivering the intense survival horror from the series. The claustrophobic and dark hallways of the police station or the mansion are tangible and dread-soaked as Roberts wrings all the tension that he possibly can out of them. He makes that dread palpable through clever angles, darkness, and unrelenting hordes that give no easy escape.

While those horror sequences can leave you on edge, not everything is as successful. Early scenes of dialogue can be rough, especially when introducing essential plot elements or characters. Some of that can be attributed as another game element, but it’ll grate for those unfamiliar with the games. The dialogue, needle drops, and technology gags meant to drive home that it’s 1998 serve as a glaring distraction that can take you out of the story rather than as intended humor. The VFX can also be rough when it comes to the most monstrous creatures, of which there aren’t too many, but it does make that video game-style finale less impressive.

Not a second is wasted trying to merge two hefty game plots, and not everything makes the cut. Roberts manages to strike a solid balance, smartly putting Claire front and center as the competent lead. Scoledario (Crawl) once again makes for an excellent lead heroine, infusing Claire with the unstoppable grit, intelligence, and heart she’s known for with plausible action prowess. She may not have the chemistry with Amell to make their sibling relationship resonate, but that has more to do with the lack of breathing room in the script for that to build. Regardless, it’s Claire that we’re ultimately willing to follow into a sequel.

A mid-credit scene does set one up while giving one lasting parting gift of massive fan service. Ultimately, Roberts succeeds in creating a far more faithful, horror-driven Resident Evil movie. This adaptation makes strange choices with its characters and can be rough around the edges, but it offers a compelling lead and succeeds in suspense-filled sequences. Roberts keeps things moving briskly, but it does constantly throw a lot of information at its audience. 

Those unfamiliar with the games might struggle to find a foothold in a world packed with so much dense history. But Welcome to Raccoon City is a movie made for the games’ fans by one massive fan, and Roberts succeeds in instilling interest for more. The potential in this franchise is immense, and Roberts gives a thrilling taste of the horror.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City releases in theaters on November 24, 2021.

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