Set in 1998, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City invites the viewer to Raccoon City, a once-booming town that housed pharmaceutical mega-corporation known as the Umbrella Corporation. However, after the company abandoned the area, Raccoon City has become a dying Midwestern wasteland. Despised by locals and ignored by the rest of the world, the city has been left in shambles on the surface with a growing toxicity bubbling underneath. When that evil is uncovered by former resident Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), she returns to attempt to rescue her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) before it’s too late. However, as the night runs on, the damage left by the Umbrella Corporation begins to surface, wreaking havoc on those who live in the area.
Beginning with the video game and evolving into a successful cinematic series starring Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil has remained in the pop culture canon now for over 25 years. Whereas Jovovich’s series had a certain campiness to the material, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City returns the sci-fi franchise to its more horror-driven roots. Written and directed by Johannes Roberts, Raccoon City emphasizes the seediness of its location. Drenched by the rain and blanketed by bleeding colours, Roberts wants the viewer to feel the horrifying atmosphere. (It’s also worth noting that, in doing so, Raccoon City definitely leans more like its video game origins, which emphasized the terrifying elements of the world.) By amping up the blood and gore, clearly his intent is to entertain through terror and, honestly, it almost works. However, despite his unflinching support of the franchise’s scarier roots, Roberts’ script simply relies too heavily on tropes that we’ve seen before, preventing it from becoming something truly special and unique.
Having said this, the film’s cast is clearly having an absolute blast which helps to offset any particular banality to the script. Anchored by sci-fi stalwarts Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Kaya Scodelario, Neal McDonough and Hannah John-Kamen, the cast are more than game for their character arcs and monster madness. However, the true gem within this film lies with Donald Logue who fully leans into his performance. While subtly is hardly a word that could be used to describe his work here, Logue always has a way of bringing depth to his characters when the material is found lacking. As a result, even in moments where the script requires scenery chewing, Logue remains infinitely engaging as the disgruntled Chief of the RPD.
Underneath Raccoon City’s gory exterior though lies a conversation about dealing with the traumas of our past and how that bleeds into the present. Whether it’s attempting to deal with ‘father figures’ who have broken their souls or divided loyalties, everyone here is trying to work out their own drama. For example, having managed to escape from Dr. Birkin’s experiments as a child, Claire managed to break free from her life Raccoon City. Even so, despite the fact that she managed to remove herself from the city, she still bears the weight of her experiences. When conversations with a mysterious source confirm her fears about Umbrella’s corporate demons, she feels she must return to help her brother from avoiding the fate of others. However, at the same time, her return also forces her to work through the damage inflicted upon her by Birkin’s cruelty and, hopefully, emerge from her trauma with a newfound strength and hope.
Enthusiastically leaning into the gore, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is definitely a new beginning for the once great franchise. While the script may seem lacking at times, Raccoon City still offers enough zombie-fueled fun to make it a visual treat for horror fans. Backed by some solid performances from its cast, Raccoon City proves to be a place that you may want to visit… but you may not want to return to.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is now playing on theatres.