RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Johannes Roberts

Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Avan Jogia, Neal McDonough, Donal Logue, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Lily Gao, Josh Cruddas.

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With six previous films in the series and having grossed some $1.5 billion at the box office, the Resident Evil series is, arguably, the most successful film franchise based on a popular video game. This is the seventh film in the series, but it is the first without regular director Paul W S Anderson or star Milla Jovovich and comes four years after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Director Johannes Roberts (the underwater horror film 47 Meters Down, etc) has attempted to reboot the series with this film, which is based on the first two games in the Resident Evil video games created by Capcom, and it remains reasonably faithful to the source material and aims to capture the spirit of the game. The film is largely set in 1998 and effectively works as a prequel/origins story.  

The film is set in Raccoon City, the midwestern town which was the home to the evil Umbrella Corporation, the huge pharmaceutical company that created and accidentally unleashed the T-virus that turned much of the population into ravenous zombies.  

Claire (Kaya Scodelario, from the Maze Runner series, etc) was raised in an orphanage in Raccoon City but she managed to get away, leaving behind her brother Chris.  Many years later Claire returns to Raccoon City and reconnects with Chris (Robbie Amell, from tv series The Flash, etc), who now works for the police force.  But from early on it is obvious that something is very wrong here. The town has fallen into decay, and many of the residents have abandoned the town, leaving behind only the poor, the infirm, the old and a skeleton police force. Local residents are being turned into zombies, and apparently the whole town will be destroyed at 6am, which introduces a familiar race against time element into the material.  

While some of the force’s elite Special Tactics And Rescue Service squad investigate the mansion that is home to Umbrella’s former CEO, Claire teams up with rookie cop Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia, who appeared in Zombieland: Double Tap, etc) to survive. Umbrella’s chief scientist William Birkin (Neal McDonough, from tv series Yellowstone, etc) tries to save his family before the entire town is destroyed.  

Written by Roberts, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is fairly cliched stuff and is slender in terms of narrative, and character development is pretty slim as well. However, the use of muted lighting and shadows by Belgian/Italian cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (Crawl, etc) the claustrophobic sets and a dramatic soundscape heighten the palpable sense of tension. Roberts is a fan of the legendary John Carpenter, and this shows in some of his directorial choices. Jennifer Spence’s design for the decayed Raccoon City adds to the overall mood of the material and his design for the police station in particular is grandiose and spectacular. There is plenty of gory violence and horror. Mark Koven’s aggressive score also heightens the tension. However, the film is let down by some dodgy CGI effects, and Roberts’ direction becomes more muddled as the film progresses.  

Scodelario has a strong presence as the spunky, kick-arse heroine and is a convincingly heroic protagonist. McDonough chews the scenery in a performance that seems attuned to the silly nature of the material. However, Donal Logue’s performance as the police chief is hammy to the extreme and actually grates.  

The zombie apocalypse has become a bit passe now and the undead are part of popular culture though The Walking Dead and numerous other films and television shows. And the Resident Evil series itself had become a bit boring and tired, so this latest attempt to breath fresh air into the franchise is welcome although it is not entirely successful. This one will appeal to hard core fans of the game more than anyone else.

★★☆ 

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