Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City is a reboot of the zombie film franchise of the zombie survival horror game franchise which has also rebooted and remade itself multiple times. It ditches the Paul W.S. Anderson helmed series and instead this film is more faithful to the original source material. It’s full of characters and moments from the original game series but people looking for a zombie movie won’t understand the game bits. The Anderson Resident Evil films ethos was apparently “Anderson’s wife is beautiful and kicks ass with super powers” with only cursory connections to the original games. This Resident Evil was made by someone who knew the game. It gets a little hokey, the CGI at the end is fairly wobbly, but it isn’t as cornball as the previous ones. While it may lag in places, it offers up messy zombie splatter.
Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) has returned to the sleepy town of Racoon City to find her brother, the STARS Special Forces officer Chris (Robbie Amell). People in town are becoming sick and violent, and, eventually, turning into flesh eating zombies. At the Racoon City Police Department, rookie cop Leon (Avan Jogia) is being hazed by Chief Irons (Donal Logue), and cops Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen). Chris, Wesker and Jill are sent to investigate an incident at the Spencer Mansion while Claire is stuck at the police station with Leon and Irons as zombies break in. Now their fates collide at the Spencer Mansion with the mastermind, the sinister Doctor Birkin (Neal McDonough), while Racoon City’s pending destruction hangs over them.
The Resident Evil franchise has many monster tendrils, with a complex interlocking, intricate continuity of game installments and CGI movie/miniseries. This made the Anderson Resident Evil live-action film series feel like an outlier as it was about superpowered heroine Alice and didn’t really follow the game plots. Also fleeting moments from the games were half-heartedly adapted. Not so for Racoon City which grabs sequences almost shot for shot.
The game bits transplanted into the film will only resonate if one has played the games. There’s a zombie lady writing "Itchy Tasty” in blood, and yelling “ITCHY TASTY!” in Claire’s face. This is based upon a journal entry in the original game where some poor schmuck writes a journal entry as their brain is melting from turning into a zombie, ending with “Itchy tasty”. References like this are throughout the flick, like the slow reveal of a zombie chomping on a victim is shot for shot from the original game. And an awkward bit of dialogue from the first game about a “Jill Sandwich” is repurposed here. The costumes and locations are spot-on recreations. There’s even a moment when Claire watches a creepy video of two twins which is taken shot for shot from a spin-off game. The finale features some ropey CGI with a giant half man/half monster but is close to the original, and much better when Anderson’s movie did something similar.
Considering how true to the source Racoon City is, it is somewhat wonky the film ditches the epic evil of Albert Wesker’s character from the games and makes him sort of a chump. Even the Anderson films properly had Wesker be a monomaniacal supervillain, here he’s just a guy trying to score some cash. He isn’t even wearing his trademark bad guy sunglasses until a shameless sequel bait mid-credits teaser. As Birkin, McDonough gets to be sinister in flashbacks and holler crazily when he gets morphed into the monster. Jogia as Leon is a dopey screw-up, a contrast to the steadfast hero he is in the game, but he has some fun reactions. As the Chief, Logue gets in some good one-liners, like when things go wrong at the police station he immediately bails and leaves Leon in charge.
Jill is a big part of the Resident Evil franchise and is just sort of stuck as Wesker’s sidekick, leaving John-Kamen not much to do. Claire and Chris are sort of the main characters as there are a few flashbacks to them as kids in Birkin’s orphanage which are ultimately meaningless. Scodelario has some fun lines and Amell makes for a believable action hero, although their best stuff is their snippy interaction at the start when Claire breaks into her brother’s house, puts on a football helmet and pouts.
There is a significant amount of blood splatter and mutations, which makes it pop more than the Anderson flicks. Some stylistic bits are nifty, a bit where the characters encounter a licker and a mutated lady named Lisa Trevor has decent monster smash. And there’s also a few good musical needle drops that are incongruously, amusingly contrasted with the violence like a guy on fire set to “Crush” and when military goons gun down civilians as Chief Irons flees in his car set Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”.
As far as video game adaptations go, Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City is closer to the original games than the previous Resident Evil film franchise. It may not entice non-fans into the world but it is a decent recreation of the original series. And with a few yuks and splats along the way, it does the job.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City
Director: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Hannah John-Kamen, Kaya Scodelario, Tom Hopper, Neal McDonough, Robbie Amell and Avan Jogia