The Resident Evil movie franchise gets a reboot, and Welcome To Raccoon City does a solid job of taking things right back to the start.
With full disclosure up front, the last bunch of Resident Evil movies didn’t really do it for me. A couple of moments, sure, and Milla Jovovich was always on form. But the mix of elements otherwise felt a little unconvincing, tension too often undercut by loud music and whizzy effects. Yet under the stewardship of filmmaker Paul W S Anderson, the films became one of Sony Pictures’ most reliable franchises, and the studio would have been happy churning them out every two years forever.
Anderson though wrapped his movies up and went to do Monster Hunter instead (that I quite enjoyed), and the Resident Evil movie franchise – based, of course, on the famous survival horror videogames – is thus in reboot territory. It’s now landed in the hands of British director Johannes Roberts, and he’s very much taken things back to basics. He’s declared his love of the games in an assortment of interviews, but what struck me watching this is he’s a better observer of their tone.
Not just of the games, either. With Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City – that he’s also penned the script for – you don’t have to look far to see the influences of John Carpenter movies, and a dash of early Steven Spielberg too. Roberts is happy to keep things quiet for a good amount of time, and to work from a stripped-down horror toolkit as he re-establishes the world. You get, therefore, a deserted town, signs doing some of the storytelling work, a lot of rain, and the occasional dog bark.
And into this he puts the story of Raccoon City, a place that’s been ravaged by the thoroughly dastardly Umbrella Corporation. Whatever nefarious work Umbrella has been up to, it’s had side effects, with zombified creatures looking to consume human beings that cross their path. Thus, we get Kaya Scodelario and Robbie Amell as Claire and Chris Redfield, Hannah John-Kamen on fine form as Jill Valentine, and Donal Logue gets to be the shouty Chief Irons. The film is happy to draft in Neal McDonough to tell everyone off from time to time too. They’re all fine in their roles too, although none of them quite yet match the impact of Jovovich from the previous films.
There’s not that much to any of the characters really though, and if anything, the film’s priority is the brooding, dark, unsafe city of its title. For the first part of the film, dialogue is minimalised as we’re introduced to the area – and the 1990s era the movie is set in (Palm Pilots ahoy!) – and this is all really effective too. We get a series of compact, watchable set pieces beyond that, a healthy selection of CRT monitors, lots of long shots and a bit of explaining. But there’s energy, mood and pace to it all, and I found the first hour passed by really quickly.
By the last act though, it did feel like the film was out of fresh tricks, and a bit more along the lines of a studio franchise picture’s denouement. That’s where we get the most action and the influx of creatures, and it will not be spoiling much to suggest that guns are fired during this section of the film.
What I appreciated here was the attempt to contain a story into something manageable and digestible, with a clear eye on getting that right. I’m not the best person to judge whether it’s going to delight those who love the games – and they remain still the core audience for the movie – but for those of us who’ve driven by the franchise a few times in some form, Welcome To Raccoon City is a solid addition. I’d also suggest it’s both an upgrade on the previous films, but leaving plenty of ceiling room to go further.
I can’t see it converting people in droves to the Resident Evil world, but conversely, I got more out of this than something like the recent Halloween Kills. And I wouldn’t mind sitting through the next film, that’s inevitably – but lightly – set up…
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