Review: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Preamble

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers. I hope your 2022 is full of success, happiness and good memories. It’s been a gentle but slow return to blogging, but I’m nevertheless thrilled to be back. The Resident Evil movie franchise is one of those rare instances where I’ve purposefully not seen any instalments that pervade the series. Part of this is due to having little (if any) interest in investing time to the six movie series. The other reason is that I cherish my memories of the games too much. As of writing, I’ve played the remakes of 2 & 3, Resident Evil 4, 5, Leon’s Campaign in 6 as well as Biohazard and Village.

However, I’ll admit my curiosity was piqued by this reboot, which promises a much more faithful rendition of the beloved Capcom series. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out after the jump. Have you seen Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

What makes something faithful to its source material? Is it allusions, easter eggs and occasional moments of visual evoking via set design etc. This is the question that circled my mind throughout Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. Based on the narrative of the first two games, the 2021 videogame adaptation sees Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) return to Raccoon City to persuade her brother, Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) of a conspiracy she stumbles upon about the Umbrella corporation. Meanwhile, Chris and a team of officers are tasked with investigating goings-on at the Spencer Mansion. These events play out among the backdrop of the denizens of Raccoon City transforming into zombies, and a newly minted rookie cop- Leon S Kennedy (Avan Jogia) attempting to survive on his first day on the job.

To its credit, Raccoon City does have a solid base of reference for its approach to adapting the source material. Almost taking place in real-time with title cards to tell the audience the time, the film has the same unnerving and glacial pace of the long credits sequence in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987). This is coupled with imagery that harkens back to some of Dario Argento’s corrupted sense of innocence in Deep Red (1975). One such moment is a juxtaposition of medium shots where a creepy toy gives way to the reveal of Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa) to a young Claire Redfield.

However, these sensibilities are mostly drowned out by a sledgehammer approach to the rest of the proceedings. These mostly come in the form of loud and inane sequences that use 90s music to fuel its scares and high octane sequences. It almost becomes comical that two separate explosions are caused by the popular music of that era. This approach is also taken with the characters that exist in a perpetual cycle of being one-note. In fact, at times, they come across more as vessels for attitude as opposed to people with genuine emotion.

The wise-cracking Leon S Kennedy of Resident Evil 4 is transformed into an incompetent buffoon that’s always screwing up to the point of bewilderment. Clare Redfield is now spiky and sassy as opposed to the empathetic and determined character in the remake of the second game. And the less said about Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker, the better…

While these characters are placed in locations that visually feel in line with the video games (the highlight being the reveal of the R.P.D. that evokes the grandiosity and a sense of the history of that place in Resident Evil 2), they’re usually left with nothing if anything to do at all. The appeal of the games were the choices players had to make every time they ventured forth from a save point. Do I have enough ammo? Can I get to location x without dying? How many zombies are around this corner etc? In this sense, playing the game was akin to being handed a Rubik’s Cube and asked to solve it during a stressful situation.

Aside from one incidental moment where Leon loses his gun and has to face down a zombie unarmed, no moments from the film capitalise upon the video game franchise’s inherently nerve-racking moments of survival horror. And this is the inherent problem with the picture, it feigns to understand Resident Evil, but this knowledge is on such a superficial level that it becomes insulting to watch at times.

In fact, with its rushed approach, underdeveloped characters and ignored political subtext (insofar as the zombies representing the working class who are victimised by the corporate class) Welcome to Raccoon City is a frustrating experience that’s often wandering aimlessly around faithful locations from its source material.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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