By Ben Konuch
It really shouldn’t be that difficult to make a “Resident Evil” movie. The concept of the iconic 1996 survival horror game is incredibly simple – a character is stuck alone in a spooky mansion, hunted by all kinds of hideous creatures, running out of supplies and, in the process, uncovering a dark and twisted conspiracy. That’s all you have to do. You would think, with such a straightforward premise and the pool of talented filmmakers in Hollywood, that a “Resident Evil” movie would be easy to make and even easier to enjoy.
Unfortunately, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is not. It’s Hollywood’s second attempt at adapting the beloved video game franchise, and while not completely horrible, it’s far from good and far from fun. I’ve seen enough of Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil” movies to know what true suffering feels like, and while “Welcome to Raccoon City” is far from that level of pain, it still hurt me to watch.
The film has enough good elements that prevent it from being a complete disaster as well as constantly infuriate you by hinting at how much better it could have been. All in all, it is a convoluted, poorly written mess that is either bad or painfully average in every way possible, once again proving that, for some strange reason, a movie about being alone in a mansion full of zombies remains stupefyingly impossible for Hollywood to pull off.
Creepy set designs do complement “Welcome to Raccoon City” well, but they aren’t enough to actually scare audiences.
“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” was written and directed by Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”) and seeks to adapt the first two “Resident Evil” games. The film follows rookie cop Leon Kennedy on his first night in Raccoon City, a failing town once home to the pharmaceuticals company Umbrella Corporation. Throughout the night, he crosses paths with Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, officers of an elite police team investigating disappearances at the mysterious Spencer Mansion on the outskirts of town, along with Claire Redfield, Chris’s sister who has returned to Raccoon City to expose a conspiracy.
Now, if that sounds like a very busy plot with quite a few main characters, that’s because it is. The film’s biggest flaw is its attempts to weave two full stories from two completely different games into a single, less-than-two-hour movie. If “Welcome to Raccoon City” were instead two movies each dedicating its valuable screen time to each game’s plot line, we could have gotten two very good (albeit a bit cheesy) movies for a new franchise. Instead, we are left with sub-par plot lines stripped down to their bare bones.
The worst part is this isn’t just a bad “Resident Evil” movie; it’s also a bad movie in general. Aside from my complaints about the film as a video game adaptation, the movie butchers filmmaking fundamentals in incredibly confusing ways. For example, about half of the dialogue feels incredibly forced. This is most notable in one of the early scenes where a truck driver is talking to Claire and practically dumps exposition directly to the audience without a shred of characterization.
Meanwhile, the movie’s pacing is all over the place, with barely any downtime for important plot moments to shine through. As a result, the conspiracy is uncovered via convoluted plot points shoehorned in between empty action scenes. Worst of all, “Welcome to Raccoon City” has no climax: the movie simply ends. Any suspense the audience might be feeling is completely thrown away right when the tension needs to be at its peak. The credits just start rolling, which left me feeling only frustration and disappointment.
Surprisingly, there were aspects of the film I did enjoy. The casting is pretty good, and the actors do a fairly good job selling the new versions of these characters. The costuming and set design are likewise all acceptable, with the Spencer Mansion being an especially well-designed, creepy location. It is a shame that only 10 minutes of the movie actually takes place in the mansion.
In fact, almost all of the scenes I liked from “Welcome to Raccoon City” were scenes from the Spencer Mansion plotline, which fueled my frustration immensely. With the first game being dedicated entirely to the Spencer Incident, and almost all the good scenes from this film being from that plotline, it infuriates me to know that we could have gotten a movie dedicated solely to this story with those good parts made better.
Chris Redfield struggles to survive in the Spencer Mansion.
But we don’t, unfortunately, get to see that kind of a film. We don’t get to fully experience the unsettling creepiness of the Spencer Mansion. We don’t get to experience the sense of horror, isolation and claustrophobia while facing down an unknown enemy. We don’t get to fall in love with the characters that have charmed the hearts of gamers since the ‘90s. We don’t get to see anything of what makes the “Resident Evil” franchise so iconic.
Instead, we get an overstuffed action film filled with “meh.” Incredibly awkward dialogue plagues the script. Side plots seem to exist solely so that the director can turn to the audience mid-film and excitedly shout “Do you remember that thing from the game? Do you?” Characters are at times little more than vague plot devices. Things happen for no apparent reason, including the virus that drives the entire story of the movie yet is never explained.
Meanwhile, there are a couple genuinely good action scenes, but they’re few and far between. There’s a fantastically done practical effect for a monster that appears towards the end of the movie, only for the main villain to appear 20 minutes later in some of the worst CGI I have seen in the last decade of film.
In conclusion, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is worse than a bad movie; it’s a mediocre movie that had the potential to be fantastic. If the writers had decided to focus on one plotline instead of two, there wouldn’t have been the extreme condensing of stories that leads to the film’s awkwardness. Actors could have really sold their characters instead of trying to salvage a fundamentally broken script. Best of all, splitting the film into two would have allowed the film to take things slowly when it desperately needed to and could have allowed it to convey something that it seemingly forgot it needed to – the feeling of fear and actual horror.
This movie could have been so much better, but unfortunately for me and its audiences, it wasn’t. “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” gets 3.5/10 stars.
“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is currently playing in theaters.
Ben Konuch is a freshman strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.