Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City approaches Capcom’s Umbrella chronicles precisely as I’ve been begging someone to attempt through adaptation. Give Paul W.S. Anderson earned credit for channeling Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6—the more action-focused entries—and churning out undead blockbuster entertainment. That said, there’s an inherently cinematic dread to Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 that I’ve long yearned to see duplicated beat-for-beat on screen. Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya emphasize impractical camera angles, which hide moaning threats, and the intimate fear flowing through characters, which infects players as they grip their controllers tighter. Why not trust these time-tested blueprints that already exist as videogames?
That question no longer requires asking since Johannes Roberts has written and directed as faithful a Resident Evil movie fans can ask for, with some original flourishes. Roberts blends the central narratives of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 in this joint effort, starring all your recognizable favorites.
Umbrella Corporation is operating on a skeleton crew in Raccoon City, amidst their relocation out of hicksville. Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) hitches a ride back home to lay more conspiracy theories about Umbrella’s poisoning of Raccoon water supplies on her R.P.D brother Chris (Robbie Amell). That’s when Umbrella’s alarm sirens blare, and Chris rushes to headquarters. Chief Brian Irons (Donal Logue) issues orders, and the night’s descent into chaos begins. Chris, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) investigate the Spencer Mansion; Claire, Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) and Chief Irons head towards the abandoned orphanage.
Oh! Let’s not forget William Birkin (Neal McDonough), who refuses to let his T-virus and G-virus “research” be destroyed or stolen. That hint’s for you, Resident Evil 2 fans.
Roberts’ dedication to replication is respectful and meticulous, understanding the brilliance that Capcom once achieved in survival horror development. Frames are painstakingly dittoed in succession, whether that’s a trucker grabbing his greasy cheeseburger off the dash or the infamous zoom on Resident Evil’s first munching zombie face. They’re nostalgic callbacks but also seamlessly translate to theaters. Production design earns a mighty callout for masterfully architecting Raccoon City as gamers remember, thanks to Capcom’s generous gift of their graphic model floor plans.
The first waltz into the Spencer Mansion’s foyer is a mix of giddiness and awe—same for the police department’s lobby. Technology is outdated by design, which lets Wesker use a Palm Pilot that functionally operates as the game’s tracker map. Every detail, no matter its significance, finds its tie.
Other Easter eggs appear beyond costumes or cheapness, as Roberts finds ways to both sneakily and disturbingly work fan-favorite glimpses either as I-spy catches or via fresh deliveries. Maybe that’s a remix on the Keeper’s “itchy tasty” diary entry or puzzle-solving—piano keystrokes—that opens secret doors. Anything from ornate keys to staple characters to cartoony orphanage greeters ground franchise obsessives in a Raccoon City that meets Resident Evil: Apocalypse at its scariest—except Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City stays within its horror focus throughout the reboot. Survival horror remains the name of Roberts’ amusement: At last, the terrifying Resident Evil movie you’ve been waiting for. Fan servicing never becomes a crutch because fans are serviced in ways that display an everlong appreciation for Capcom’s legacy.
What’s less successful is the origin aspect of so many characters, from rookie beat-cop Leon S. Kennedy to Tom Hopper’s Wesker iteration that appears the least indebted to any Wesker we’ve thus encountered. I wish the characters felt a tad more fleshed than their preliminary versions. Performances push through setups that might care only about visuals—Chris Redfield battling zombies in a pitch-black room illuminated by strobing gunfire—or chew through dialogue that’s a bit stereotypical. In being a truthful recreation, there’s a sliver of mystery stolen from the narrative’s punch. Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City desperately wants to be the catalyst for multiple sequels and can feel rushed through its purpose, especially in a hasty third act that throttles to the finish line with Scodelario and Amell in standout Redfield roles.
Thankfully, Roberts’ eye for terror in 47 Meters Down and Strangers: Prey At Night lends itself to frightful encounters with shambling hordes or singular flaming zombies. As Chris explores Spencer Mansion before T-virus mutations flood hallways, there’s table-setting done through suspenseful camerawork that teases inevitable attacks. Special effects artists do their best to recreate mangled monster pups, Lickers and an eventual G-virus final boss—which look their worst when Lisa Trevor fights a Licker and best when, well, all eyes are on Birkin (hiding my spoilers in puns for those who know). I will admit there’s a little too much digitized gore for my tastes, but it also honors the videogame aesthetic, so there’s conflict in my comment. Even the zombies’ makeup seems over-applied to resemble pixelated inspirations, without sacrificing menace or snarling ferocity.
Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City isn’t a grand slam, but it’s a chilling and thoughtful Resident Evil adaptation that does the series proud. Johannes Roberts laboriously and heroically builds Raccoon City from its steel R.P.D gates to Spencer Mansion’s artwork decor to Arklay County’s eerie ominosity. Fortune favors the familiar, but Roberts also takes small swings to promote a hybrid vision that becomes a mixed bag (where the hell is Barry Burton…again). Nevertheless, atmospheric and dreadful staples in Raccoon City’s videogame DNA finally translate into cinematic thrills. Everything I’ve been asking for from a Resident Evil movie? Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City accomplishes. Although, I wonder how Resident Evil will play to newbie crowds who won’t notice the film’s dedication to source—and what an experience without prior investment becomes.
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writer: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough
Release Date: November 24, 2021
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread to the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.