The Resident Evil franchise, consisting of both the games and movies, has been around for 25 years and, by all accounts, has no plans of stopping. Though it’s been 5 years since the last Resident Evil film was released, it was announced in 2018 that The Strangers: Prey at Night director, Johannes Roberts, would be spearheading a new film titled RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY. This film would be its own separate entity into the franchise and would focus more on being faithful to the games. Now with the film’s release, fans will have the chance to see if Roberts’s adaptation lives up to the first two Resident Evil games.
WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY opens at an orphanage located within the city walls. Here we meet siblings Claire (Kaya Scodelario) and Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) as children. Though we see quite a few flashbacks to their time at the orphanage, this intro showcases that things are definitely awry at the facility. Fast forward to 1998, we meet adult Claire Redfield hitchhiking back to her hometown of Raccoon City. However, a tragic accident occurs when the truck driver she’s riding with hits a pedestrian, foreshadowing what’s to come. After arriving in Raccoon City, Claire immediately heads to her estranged brother’s house in hopes of convincing him about the reality of what’s occurring. Ignoring her pleas, Chris heads to work to meet up with the remainder of the police station’s skeleton crew. Shortly thereafter, the town’s power goes out and the reality of their situation becomes alarmingly clear as they begin to be stalked by ravenous zombies.
As someone who hasn’t played the games, I was really excited to learn more about these beloved game characters and how the horror initially unfolded within the Umbrella Company. For me, The Resident Evil films have always been synonymous with Milla Jovovich as Alice, a character that was created specifically for the movie. But what’s exciting about WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY is that fans will finally have the chance to see the main stars of the video game, Jill Valentine and Leon Kennedy, get their much-deserved dues. When speaking with Director Johannes Roberts, he made it known that this film was going to be faithful to the games, and from all accounts by fans of the game, he seems to have succeeded.
RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY is a solid film. However, where it runs into some issues is with the acting. There are definitely some strong performances, most notably from Kaya Scodelario (Claire), Robbie Amell (Chris), and Hannah John-Kamen (Jill Valentine). Fans of Jill Valentine will be happy to know that John-Kamen’s portrayal is as badass as they come, and I, personally, really, REALLY hope we get to see more of her in the future. Additionally, the film features character actors Neal McDonough (“Dr. William Birkin”) and Donal Logue (“Chief Brian Irons”), who bring levity to the film, especially Logue. That being said, I do wish we had more screentime with McDonough’s character. With him portraying the top researcher at Umbrella, I would have liked to have known more about his backstory so it fleshed out his character and gave newcomers more context about him.
Rookie police officer Leon S. Kennedy is another major character from the games that also, like Valentine, gets an abundance of screentime in this film. That being said, I wish I had been able to connect more with the character. My biggest issue with Avan Jogia‘s performance was that it lacked an emotional depth. As chaos was raining down upon everyone, his reaction seemed far more chill than it should have been. Obviously, we all react differently to trauma but come on! No one is going to be that chill when a horde of zombies are coming their way.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is “Umbrella Academy”‘s Tom Hopper (“Albert Wesker”) “Siren’s” Chad Rook (“Richard Aiken”), and “Letterkenny’s” Nathan Dales (“Brad Vickers”), who make up the rest of the police department’s skeleton crew, alongside Valentine and Redfield. As with Dr. William Birkin’s character, I would have loved more time with Hopper as I found his character to be multi-layered and complex. But regardless, this close group of friends/co-workers felt natural and sincere on-screen.
Those familiar with the Resident Evil franchise are no stranger to its stylized look. However, Roberts brings it to another level with his signature neon colors and atmospheric feel. As much as I love his bright, electric color palette, the way in which he built the dread and atmosphere surrounding the ghost town and the mysterious mansion located on the outskirts was pristine. In a way, it reminded me a lot of the atmosphere Wan created for his Conjuring films, with the tendrils of fog and the blue/grey color palette. Where Roberts really shines is in the execution of his creative vision and that’s no different with WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY. Additionally, Roberts made sure to use as many practical effects within the film as he could. One of the best examples of this is in the appearance of Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa). Had this strictly been done with CGI, I don’t think the character would have been nearly as impactful.
Along with his stylized approach, Roberts brings another one of his signature brands to the film: the soundtrack. One of the best scenes of the film and a pivotal moment for what’s about to unfold takes place at the police station while Jennifer Paige’s 1998 banger, “Crush” plays in the background. With the insanity of that scene, the song shouldn’t work. BUT IT FUCKING DOES and is probably one of the biggest highlights of the film. There’s also a fantastic moment inside a car that features Chief Brian Irons in quite a predicament while Journey’s “Any Way you Want It” plays in the background. And that’s what’s so great about Roberts’ approach. He can bring two pop songs into the mix of absolute horror and carnage and is able to make it work perfectly.
Overall, I found RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY to be an absolute blast. It’s by no means perfect and it has its flaws, but it’s gory, violent, funny, and – surprisingly – quite memorable. I would even go so far as to say it’s one of the best films in the entire Resident Evil franchise and the addition of the atmospheric tone really adds an extra layer of unease to the film. What Roberts has created is a tense, contained horror-action film that pays homage to the original games but separates itself as its own exciting and terrifying entity. I’m not sure where the Resident Evil films will go from here, but I’m excited for whatever is next.
RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY is now exclusively in movie theaters.
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