Resident Evil Review: Why Welcome to Raccoon City Should’ve Been a TV Series

SONY (L to R) Tom Hopper, Chad Rook, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell in Screen Gems RESIDENT EVIL WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY

*Contains minor spoilers

RESIDENT EVIL: Welcome to Raccoon City returns to the origins of the massively popular Capcom franchise taking fans back to where it all began. The live-action reboot, written and directed by Johannes Roberts, takes a different approach this time, with more of a horror-based film than action. While it successfully translates many different elements from the games to the big screen, giving fans the closest live-action adaptation we’ve seen so far, it still somewhat disappoints. I can best describe it as a worthy fan film that just needed a better budget, better special effects and more run-time. Honestly, this film would have been golden if it were pitched as a TV series. When will people realize that RE will translate much better in long- form storytelling.

Fans of the original games can at least appreciate Roberts direction, as a gamer himself Roberts made sure to pay close attention to detail and we can definitely see that throughout the film. For over twenty-five years the horror based Resident Evil franchise has given fans dozens of games, multiple animated films and 6 very loose live-action adaptation blockbusters (Paul W.S. Anderson). Now there is a new film for a whole new generation of RE fans.

RESIDENT EVIL:  WELCOME  TO  RACCOON  CITY,  once  the  booming  home  of  pharmaceutical  giant Umbrella  Corporation,  Raccoon  City  is  now  a  dying  Midwestern  town.  The  company’s  exodus left  the  city  a  wasteland…with  great  evil  brewing  below  the  surface.  When  that  evil  is  unleashed, a  group  of  survivors  must  work  together  to  uncover  the  truth  behind  Umbrella  and  make  it through  the  night. 

(LtoR) Avan Jogia and Kaya Scodelario in Screen Gems RESIDENT EVIL WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY

The film takes some creative freedom but is still pretty faithful to the source material with references from both Resident Evil 1 & 2 giving fans a lot to be excited about. Let’s start with what works. The movie does a fantastic job of displaying video game references, locations and character interactions to make it the BEST Resident Evil live action movie adaptation. There is so much nostalgia as it takes place in the 90s giving fans a real connection to the games from our childhood. It is much darker than the previous movies and it gives us a new look at some of our favorite characters. Initially, I was unsatisfied with the casting announcements, but after watching the movie I actually didn’t mind the casting choices at all. Conclusively, the casting was not my main issues with this film.

Welcome to Raccoon City features many popular locations such as the orphanage, Spencer Mansion and Birkin’s laboratory , as well as all the main characters of the early “Resident Evil” games (Chris and Claire  Redfield, Jill Valentine, Leon S. Kennedy, Albert Wesker, Chief Brian Irons of the  Raccoon City Police Department, Lisa Trevor, and Umbrella scientist William Birkin).

The film adapts storylines from the first two games, and follows Chris (Robbie Amell), Jill (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) as they explore the abandoned Spencer mansion to investigate a murder. Meanwhile, Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns home to Raccoon City to try and warn her brother Chris about Umbrella poisoning the towns water with a dangerous substance. Claire later teams up with rookie cop Leon (Avan Jogia) as they try to find a way out of the RC Police Department and out of Raccoon City before it explodes. The cast ultimately did pretty convincing performances each in their own right, the issue was more the lack of character development and rushed plot-lines than the actual portrayal of the characters themselves.

Although the filmmakers shifted away from casting actors that look exactly like their in-game counterparts, the cast still brings some life to their characters. The S.T.A.R.S members are portrayed as relatable people that you can connect with, laugh and associate with throughout the events of the film. The dynamic duo, Chris (Amell) and Jill (Kamen) are still the elite trigger-happy badasses that we know and love, we just don’t really get a chance to see much of their friendship aside from a few flirty jokes and just literally having each other’s backs. I just wish the film really took the time to delve into these character arcs more. Although Jogia gave a pretty solid performance as our favorite pretty boy Leon, his character was very one dimensional. Yes, Leon is the new guy in town and a rookie to the force but he was literally always the butt of the joke and never taken seriously in this film. Leon is such a beloved character and this kind of did him a disservice. Especially with the tone of this film being darker and scarier the jokes could’ve been left out.

Another character that was a bit disappointing was the fan favorite “tragic experiment” Lisa Trevor. Although it was cool to finally see Lisa Trevor on the big screen, the movie didn’t do her character any justice.  She was not as scary looking as we hoped, but i’ll get more into effects and design later. The bigger issue is that viewers don’t get any semblance to how mortifying her character really is. Unless you are well-versed in the games, you won’t have any idea about who or what she is.

Lisa Trevor in Screen Gems RESIDENT EVIL WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY

A series could’ve spent an episode’s worth showcasing more of Lisa’s story, her fathers connection to the Spencer mansion, the underground laboratory, her kidnapping and being a test subject and undergoing grotesque mutations. This is where the film failed to showcase the horrors committed by Umbrella. The movie really should’ve delved more into her tragic storyline, a television series would have worked perfectly to give enough time to flesh out her backstory, instead of introducing her character for a mere two minutes to only serve as a tour guide for Claire.

Lisa was a human test subject forced to undergo a plethora of biological experiments conducted by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The side-effects of the experiments mutated Lisa into a monstrous abomination. CAPCOM

Roberts was excited to bring Lisa to life “Lisa Trevor was one of the most fascinating characters to portray in the  movie – and she’s a character who’s never been portrayed in the movies until now,”  he says. “She was always one of the characters in the first game that most  interested me – there’s something very tragic and haunting – as well as terrifying – about her. I tried to bring that into this movie, and we cast a very interesting young  actress, Marina Mazepa, who brought a life and personality to a tormented being.  She’s unique – I’m looking forward to seeing an audience reaction to her. 

For this character – another orphan, and a victim of Umbrella’s experiments – Roberts gave the character a design he calls “very creepy.” “She has a mask made of human flesh. She wears like old rags and clothes. And she has a board that  clasps her hand together. She’s a very disturbing character.”

Dr. William Birkin, played fantastically by Neal McDonough is the face of the Umbrella Corp and the films main antagonist. Birkin was one of the Umbrella Corporation’s top viral researchers and the man responsible for the development of the G-virus. He is also the man foremost responsible for bringing about the destruction of Raccoon City. Neal does a phenomenal job as the dedicated virologist and family man who ultimately goes crazy, and “all hell breaks loose.”

Dr. William Birkin (ウィリアム・バーキン Wiriamu Bākin?) was a virologist who worked for Umbrella Pharmaceuticals in the 1970s-1990s. CAPCOM

Roberts was blown away by McDonough’s performance – not only as Dr. Birkin as a  human being, but in more monstrous forms. “As Birkin transforms, Neal understood  that his performance couldn’t be quiet and small. With all the CG and the prosthetics,  he knew how to take that performance and deliver it, not just for camera, but for  down the line, in post. He knew exactly what he needed to give to not be completely  dwarfed by the makeup and effects around him. He’s an amazing bad guy.” 

While I do agree with this sentiment, I still think his character was tragically wasted as the films third act was catastrophically rushed. There really wasn’t enough time to show his character crack, or even enough run-time in his monstrous form in general. His transition could’ve been better and he wasn’t as terrifying as the games, which brings me to the set locations, the overall effects and the simple appearance of the zombies.

Building Raccoon City

My biggest complaint when it comes to modern-day horror films is the overbearing and poorly done CGI. That is why I was immensely surprised to learn most of the film was shot on location and did in fact use some practical effects and prosthetics.

To find their Raccoon City , the production searched small towns that had gone through similar changes. Hartley Gorenstein, a trusted line producer on many movies suggested production check out Sudbury, a former mining town that’s gone through many transformations: was the site of a deadly tornado, the third-largest impact crater on earth, was left with a ruined landscape with acidic lakes, and so much pollution that all the trees died. (Sudbury today has the cleanest air in Ontario).

The production worked hand in-hand with game manufacturer Capcom who supplied production designer Jennifer Spence (Shazam!, The Forever Purge) with the “architectural plans” for the Spencer Mansion and police station to enable her and her team to recreate them as closely  as possible. They included the sprawling exterior of the Spencer Mansion, as well as various interiors — the main entrance hall with its staircase, the library, and several  other rooms, as well as the exterior of the police station with its huge atrium.  

I am always impressed by movies that do an elaborate job of world building and immersing viewers, but this movie didn’t exactly deliver that. While overly excited by the literal replication of some signature locations from the game being built – including the Spencer Mansion, the Raccoon City Police Station, the Umbrella  Orphanage, and the Birkin’s underground laboratory, oddly enough – they didn’t feel real. Some scenes looked entirely green-screen. Maybe with a bigger budget and an extended time frame we could’ve really had a chance to appreciate these sets with more screen time and character interactions like more puzzles and actual searching. Overall the film did an amazing job of giving us locations directly from the game where viewers can literally recall specific moments.

Creating the Zombies

In the end, Roberts says, he “drew a lot from the game.” A more unlikely inspiration  was the miniseries “Chernobyl” – Roberts was so disturbed by the depiction of  radiation sickness that he asked Resident Evil’s prosthetic supervisor Steve Newburn to lean into the effect of chemical burns and radiation poisoning on the  skin, rather than opting for the zombie trope of dead, rotting flesh. “It’s a slow build,  rather than you’re bitten and you turn,” Roberts explains. “It required very complex  prosthetics. It was insanely tricky to do with Covid precautions, in minus 10-degree temperatures, rain, shooting crowd scenes with hundreds of zombies. But the  hardest thing was to feel the humanity of the zombies; I wanted to know there’s a human being under the makeup.” Which would make it all the more scary and  meaningful when the gloves come off and the zombies rampage. 

While, I do appreciate this dedication to detail, the zombies weren’t terrifying enough and didn’t seem to really pose a threat. I think there could have been more destruction, more blood and even more zombies. For 2021 standards the CGI dogs weren’t that impressive, but I did love the RCPD scenes with Chief Irons, they felt exactly like moments from the game. The mansion scenes were executed pretty well though, with Chris fending off all the zombies in the dark and the crazy camera angles, at least this moment felt like hardcore gameplay.

Johannes Roberts’ Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is ultimately a satisfying rendition of the action- horror franchise, a refreshing departure from the previous movies, and full of easter eggs and RE lore. Although it has its flaws, fans of the original games can at least appreciate Roberts direction as the reboot establishes a new RE universe separate from the games, and tries to remain true to the games roots and mythology. However, very similar to the outcome of the RE3 game remake; Welcome to Raccoon city has a lot to offer but it accelerates the narrative hurting its own potential.

Overall: 6.5

The story moves at a pretty fast pace not really giving viewers a chance to delve into all the dark secrets of Umbrella, or even enough time to focus on developing any of the characters. The reboot is a much better adaptation overall, but still wish it fleshed out more of the story, and the effects could’ve been so much better by todays standards. However, it did deliver as a service to the fans and I hope there will be potential sequels to give room for more character development and appearances of other important characters from the Resident Evil roster. This was certainly a step in the right direction and it definitely brought back the spirit of the franchise! I say give it a shot.

RESIDENT  EVIL:  WELCOME  TO  RACCOON CITY 

Action/Horror November  24,  2021

Check out my interview with the director below!!

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