Review by C.J. Bunce
Sometimes a movie is exactly as advertised and exactly what you want. If you love a good John Carpenter movie and are intrigued by a director’s ambitious attempt to create a worthy homage to Carpenter’s most memorable early work, then Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is for you. With pacing, cinematography, music, and characterizations found in Carpenter’s Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing, and Escape from New York, writer-director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) delivers more mood than scares, but it’s the perfect beginning to a video game franchise movie series and a fantastic throwback 1980s-style horror romp. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is available on physical media here at Amazon and currently has a $9.99 sale price for digital streaming at Vudu.
What makes a good horror tie-in? The Resident Evil movies aren’t known for incorporating characters from the games, but that is remedied here. Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner, The Pale Horse) is Claire Redfield, returning to Raccoon City, the starting point for the zombie apocalypse seen in the long-running franchise, and home to orphan Claire and brother Chris, played by Robbie Amell (The X-Files, The Flash, A Series of Unfortunate Events) as we meet the siblings in 1998, on the date the apocalypse arrives. Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ready Player One, Killjoys) is game heroine Jill Valentine, who is a cop on duty working for the gruff, self-centered Chief Brian Irons, played by Donal Logue (Vikings, Stumptown, Life, Gotham, Zodiac, The X-Files, Sneakers). Tom Hopper (The Umbrella Academy, Terminator: Dark Fate, Merlin, Doctor Who) takes his place as another cop from the game, Albert Wesker. And the game’s mad scientist Dr. Moreau type, Dr. William Birkin, is played by Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact, Walking Tall, Captain America: The First Avenger, Timeline, Altered Carbon, RED 2, The X-Files, Quantum Leap). Any gamer waiting for this story couldn’t be more pleased with the selected cast.
This horror series prequel isn’t trying to break new ground. Claire arrives not unlike Jamie Lee Curtis’ hitchhiker in The Fog. Chief Irons, Chris, Valentine, and Wesker, are characters straight out of Assault on Precinct 13, with rookie cop Leon (Avan Jogia, Shaft, Tut, Zombieland: Double Tap, Caprica) stepping up as a character viewers will cheer on. The plot is also 100 percent Assault on Precinct 13–a breaking out of jail while others are trying to break in–this time those breaking in are zombies, which may also have been inspired by Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. It’s horror, so of course that means gore, and viewers will get buckets of it here, a waaaay over-the-top supply in the vein of The Thing’s bizarre, creepier, grotesque creations. The music, cinematography, even the fonts are homages to Carpenter’s Halloween, the most famous horror franchise opener. That leaves the Escape from New York comparison, which is supplied by Claire as she arrives in Raccoon City to pull her brother out before it’s too late.
Roberts inserts pop music to set the mood, but he doesn’t incorporate entire stretches of songs that bog down so many movies these days. You’ll swear that’s John Carpenter on keyboards in Mark Kroven’s (The Lighthouse, The Terror) delightfully moody musical score. This is good stuff, evoking the Redfield kids’ youth in Raccoon City and 1990s style as adults, by way of flashbacks and throwbacks (Fotomat, Palm Pilots, etc., and period costuming thanks to Jennifer Lantz (Halloween H20, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle). What Stranger Things is trying to do, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City gets right. This kind of flick isn’t about great production values, it’s about getting the B-movie vibe right, where viewers can enjoy the goofy absurdity of a first person shooter video game rampage against bloodthirsty zombies.
Milla Jovovich’s badass superheroine Alice in the Resident Evil franchise, from 2002’s first film through five sequels–Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) gave moviegoers the 21st century version of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City gives us Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine, no-nonsense badass heroines played by two of today’s most exciting film genre actresses, to lead us into a new branch of the film franchise.
Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine were the protagonists of the first game, the original two playable characters. Dr. Birkin is a virologist with Umbrella Pharmaceuticals and creator of the G-virus first appearing in the second game, which also featured Claire Redfield as one of the main playable characters, and Chief of Police Brian Irons was a bad cop with a troubled past. Albert Wesker was the leader of the Alpha team and S.T.A.R.S. Claire is also one of the key characters in the anime series Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, along with rookie Leon, and Chris Redfield is featured again in the new Capcom game Resident Evil Village. The tie-in to the Japanese survival/horror-themed video game Biohazard (renamed Resident Evil for the U.S. market) is a staple in the action movie genre–not only one of the world’s bestselling game series since arriving in 1996, it’s the world’s most successful video game tie-in movie franchise ever.
Resident Evil game fans should love this entry–along with fans of John Carpenter. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is available now on physical media here at Amazon and Vudu currently has a $9.99 sale price for digital streaming to own.