RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY [2021]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

 RUNNING TIME: 107 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Claire Redfield  spent her youth inside Raccoon City’s orphanage with her brother Chris. There, she was often visited in the night by a strange disfigured girl, but ended up running away. Pharmaceutical giant The Umbrella Corporation owned the town, spending years creating an ideal community before abandoning the whole thing, leaving behind what is now a skeleton crew of police and members of rescue squad STARS who include Chris. Claire is now returning to reconnect with Chris and find the answers to childhood horrors that haunt her. However, while she’s hitchhiking in a semi-truck and nearing Raccoon City, the driver accidentally hits a woman in the middle of the road; she returns to life as a zombie and disappears, while the driver’s Dobermann licks the blood she left behind  and begins to foam at the mouth, becoming erratic. This is only the beginning of a series of scary events which send Claire teaming up with rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, while Chris joins fellow STARS Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker in trying to figure out what the hell’s going on in this place….

“Is he okay”? asks somebody to somebody else, referring to the person spitting up lots of blood beside the latter person. It’s one of several well judged amusing moments, nearly all of which revolve around incompetent cop Chris, who’s just come out of prison for accidently shooting another cop in the bum. You’d think that these bits would seem out of place in what is otherwise the darkest, goriest Resident Evil film, a film which emphasises horror more than any other, but they fit in quite well. Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City was put into pre-production while Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was still in cinemas, which sort of makes a mockery of the latter film’s title, but never mind. The Final Chapter turned out to be by far the worst of an erratic series which had never really fulfilled its potential but still turned up fun watches until this one, though it may have still been a decent Greatest Hits package if it wasn’t for some of the worst shaky and quick cut filming ever, ruining every single action scene so you could barely make out what was happening, and turning even simple moments like the putting of a weapon away into a dizzying mess. This may have been director Paul Anderson’s answer to the excessive slow motion he used in the first two, but it horribly soured his conclusion to the franchise which he started. Still, this reboot/prequel was already in the planning, though it didn’t get its writer and director for another two years, Johannes Roberts, who’d made a really good job of The Strangers: Prey At Night and his 47 Metres Down twosome. He got gamers excited when he said how this film would be much more faithful to the source material. Now, I’m no gamer, so I’m certainly not able to do comparisons or point out things that are in both, but I do know that as well as serving as a prequel to the events of the first Resident Evil, it combines many elements of the first two games.

Both the feel and the approach are quite different from all the preceding entries. This is in some respects a more realistic [okay it’s a silly word to use to describe a Resident Evil film  but you’ll see what I mean] piece that avoids super jumps, high kicks, and gun fu; here,  it’s about the heroes having to choose their tools, aim their shots, and conserve ammunition, while the technology isn’t particularly high in nature. The setting is a run down town where most people have had the good sense to move out; you can not just see but feel the neglect and the boredom due to some effort being expended on evoking this, though the ugly amber-ish look that’s very prevalent becomes increasingly unappealing. The blood quota is far higher even if there are a few moments where it looks like we’re going to get some George Romero-type gut ripping before the camera frustratingly cut away, while there are also a lot of jump scares, something that I believe is a major factor of the first two games. One sequence involving a zombie dog [which looks genuinely horrible] is genuinely frightening, while a few others that involve children or have children present have a surprising intensity unseen so far in the franchise. The main hole is, of course, the one left by Milla Jovovich, a hole that the new main female heroine played by Kaya Scodelario fails to fill despite still being rather good in her own right. Jovovich did have a presence that Scodelario lacks, but what’s rather sadder is that in terms of characterisation and depth, Scodelario is given more to work with than Jovovich probably ever was.

The opening section strikes a really strong tone of creepiness as we’re in the orphanage where the head, Dr. William Birkin, is clearly up to something that’s no good at all and the children seem frightened of him. Little Clare gets some comfort from her brother Chris sending some time in her bed, but he’s evidently not supposed to be there . She also gets some comfort from nocturnal visits by this creature which is clearly small, deformed, has its arms tied together and has a wristband that shows that she’s also a resident at the orphanage. She’s called Lisa Trevor in the credits; no doubt those familiar with the games will already know who she is and why she’s this way, though I had no idea at the time and was just really impressed by the very strong darkly poetic atmosphere. Later on we’ll learn more about her, and indeed why Clare ran away from the place, but for now we cut back to the present – well, it’s not actually the present, it’s 1998, and I’ve no idea why that year was chosen to be the main setting. Maybe an expert in the games could answer this? In any case, this setting proves to be rather problematic as I’ll describe later. The adult Clare is being driven back to Raccoon City and things immediately begin to happen. I’ve lost count of the number of horror films where somebody accidently runs over something, but we’re both frightened of and feel sorry for the dog which laps up some of the blood and starts to become very ill. After this the pacing becomes slower than is normal for one of these films as we’re given a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the place. Of course the few residents left tend to hang out in a diner. There, rookie cop Leon is mocked by most of the others; well, he is a bit goofy. Claire heads to Chris’s home to warn him about Umbrella’s experiments, revealing a person named Ben Bertolucci as her source of information. After Chris leaves for the police station, a child breaks in, running from his mother, who attacks Claire; both have severe hair loss, look really ill, and are bloody.

Claire escapes on Chris’ motorbike even though he told her not to touch it, and the film settles into cutting between groups of characters wandering around several different though similarly photographed locales, with the sudden appearance of a zombie and some mild puzzling never far off. I’d imagine that much of this is very close to the experience of playing the games [or at least the first two] and can also imagine lovers of those games grinning from ear to ear. In a way this raises the subject of what’s more important for a movie adaptation of a computer game; should it try to replicate the game as much as possible or should it focus more on being a traditional piece of cinema that those who aren’t gamers like myself will be more likely to get into? This one seems to have a go at being both yet somehow seems to balance it quite well, even though Roberts likes repeating virtually the same attack set-ups several times, while the characters are generally quite dim, unable to hear obvious threats coming for them, or being absurdly slow to react to them. But just when things are getting a little too repetitious for non-gamers like myself, excitement and interest returns with a race against time, some hair-raising situations and a particularly yucky mutation of one character that, while disappointingly CG like so much stuff these days, still feels like a throwback to that glorious ’80s era of absurd, surreal, grue ala The Thing or From Beyond. And yes, we get a little scene during the end credits.

There seems to be a fair bit of practical makeup for the zombies, who sometimes look good, and sometimes don’t, which isn’t always the best thing when faces often suddenly loom out of the darkness in close-up. A few of them resemble clowns, though, as someone who was seriously freaked out after his first viewings of the original It and Killer Klowns From Outer Space, I couldn’t complain. A quite nasty edge is added by the idea of experiments being done on children. Roberts only sometimes relies on vomit-cam and has a knack for moving the camera at interesting times, such as when a helicopter crashes into a mansion; as it bursts through the ceiling the camera beats a retreat through a doorway, as if it’s trying to avoid being hit. But cinematographer Maxime Alexandre’s love of sickly amber is something that I doubt will be shared with the majority of viewers. A few 1998 songs are played over scenes which take away the dramatic effect; a shame, since Mark Koven’s growling, industrial music score, which also at time employs some haunting wordless chorale passages including one theme that resembles Ennio Morricone’s The Stendahl Syndrome main theme in its more peaceful incarnations, is very good. But otherwise the filmmakers made little effort to convince us that we’re in 1998. Maybe they lacked the money, but far cheaper productions have found a way around this. The costumes never look like they’re not from now. A video looks like an early ’80s model while a mobile phone seems to be from around 2004. The set design is not just lacking in imagination, as if to counter the sometimes interesting work in the earlier films, but lacking in detail too.

The script relies quite a bit on the F word, while, as is par for the course in these weird and restrictive times, the women tend to be stronger than the men. However, Scodelario and Robbie Amell as Leon have a solid chemistry, and the moment when Leon finally [you know it’s going to happen so this hardly counts as a spoiler] comes through is an almost cheer-worthy moment. And one has to praise Johannes for resisting something which was probably really tempting; to refer to the current crisis that’s still terrorising the world in a story about a mutant virus created and unleashed by human hands. Certain other films have done so, if not particularly directly, but this one still seems to take place on a very different planee. Overall he’s made something that not just atones for the last one but which fairly successfully re-launches the franchise with a different approach. It will be interesting to see how this continues; the end credits scene suggests that at least one of the original films will be remade. While most consider the first Resident Evil film to be the best, there were times when two or three of the sequels were quite interesting and even attempted some existentialism and social commentary, even if was somewhat half-assed. Personally, I’d like any follow-ups to this one to go further in that direction, though I’m aware that this isn’t necessarily what many fans would consider to be even slightly close to being a priority. But I reckon the future is now quite bright for Resident Evil – though hopefully not amber.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

About Dr Lenera 3120 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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