Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City opens with a prologue set in the fortress-like Raccoon City orphanage involving the young Claire (Lily Gail Reid, Ankle Biters) and Chris Redfield (Daxton Gujral, The Haunting of Bly Manor). It’s clear that something is very wrong here. Fast forward to 1998 and the now-grown Claire (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) is returning to Raccoon City when the semi she hitched a ride in hits a pedestrian who gets up and walks away. It’s clear that something is still very wrong here.
Five years after the original films came to an end, writer/director Johannes Roberts (The Strangers: Prey at Night, Hellbreeder) has rebooted the franchise with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. He promised to take the films back to the survival horror themes of the games and away from the Matrix-style action of the previous films.
And he does establish a nice sense of dread as he introduces us to what’s left of Raccoon City, which is turning into a ghost town as The Umbrella Corporation moves its headquarters elsewhere. We meet the skeleton crew that passes for the police force, which includes Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia, Victorious, Zombieland: Double Tap), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen, SAS: Red Notice, Killjoys) and Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell, The Babysitter, The Tomorrow People).
Not being a gamer I can’t tell how faithful these characters are to their original versions but he does a good job of sketching their personalities out as well as the conflict between Claire and Chris before unleashing hell on everyone over the longest, and in some cases last, night of their lives.
Unfortunately at an hour and forty-seven minutes Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is way too long and quickly bogs down and dilutes its initial atmosphere by trying to cover way too many stories. The fact that two of them involve unlikable people trying to flee the city doesn’t help. Police Chief Irons (Donal Logue, Gotham, The Cloverfield Paradox) who deserts his post as soon as the sirens sound and an Umbrella Corporation scientist William Birkin (Neal McDonough, Monsters of Man, Apex) who figures into Claire’s flashbacks.
The end result is I didn’t get an actual scare until nearly an hour into the film. By that point, it has mostly settled into two locations, the besieged police station and the Spencer Mansion, which you might remember from the first film. Even then, ironically, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City only tends to come to life during action scenes like a firefight with a horde of zombies or a helicopter crash.
There isn’t even much in the way of effects until the last half hour of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City either. The human zombies are bland-looking and the couple of infected birds and a dog we see are passable at best. There’s also a character that seems to be imitating Leatherface and wearing a human skin mask, but it’s not particularly effective. As for the monsters, which everyone was hoping we would see more of, there’s a brief fight between a couple of them and an appearance by a mostly CGI one in the last few minutes, but they barely figure into the film.
Johannes Roberts did as he promised and didn’t rely on loads of action scenes for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring nearly enough horror to replace it. Maybe if he had used some of the film’s bloated running time to explain a bit more of the backstory, especially the connection between Dr. Birkin and the Redfields, things might have seemed a bit scarier. Or maybe they are to fans of the games who already know it, but that won’t help the majority of viewers.
There’s a mid-credits scene that hints at where the sequel if there is one, will go. Hopefully, they do a better job with it than they did with this severely disappointing film. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.is available on several On Demand platforms and may still be in some theatres. You can check Sony’s website for more details.