Whether you are coming into Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) a fan of the old movies, the games, or completely new to the concept, get ready to witness a bad movie. One could blame the weak internal logic, the bad framing device, the horrible production design, or the terrible expositional dialog as the elements which make this film feel like a straight-to-VHS ‘90s novelty. The actors aren’t to blame – but fingers could be pointed to writer and director Johannes Roberts, who definitely seems familiar with the source material – but maybe only after doing a cursory Google search to get some of the iconography and character names.
Claire (Kaya Scodelario) and Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) are living at the Umbrella Corporation orphanage as children. Some shady things appear to be afoot – and Claire sees said shady things, then escapes. Now, Racoon City has become a ghost town as Umbrella seeks to expand, and Claire has returned. Also, Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), a rookie cop, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) are also there…these names mean something to the fans of the games, but don’t worry! They are almost nothing like the characters from the games, so you don’t need to know anything about them to understand how overstuffed this film is as it attempts to merge Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 into one movie while adding the framing of the orphanage, an original idea, to the storytelling. To put it lightly, it’s a mess.
The production design is one of the weakest elements of this film. Zombie design has come a long way, especially after the Walking Dead TV series has done so much to the look of the common creature. The movie’s design looks like they went to Walmart, bought some of the Halloween face paint kits, and then smudged gray oil paint over their actors. Of course, there are the many not-quite zombies that also look terrible, and uniquely different than the traditional zombie. That’s only the beginning of the bad production as the sets while looking very much like the games, look terribly CG’d. You can immediately tell that the actors are on greenscreen sets and the horribly rendered world we are seeing doesn’t help to add to the already bland and shortcut-ridden plot.
Monsters in movies really need to have rules established, and then those rules must be followed. Using an iconic creature like zombies allows for short-cuts in the establishment of rules, as people are generally familiar with them – so you don’t have to really do a lot of the work. Zombies are scary because they are instinctive monsters who can’t be reasoned with. They want to eat and will go full-force at anything they believe could be food. So, with that in mind, there is a scene in this movie shot from POV where a character is holding a lighter. When the flame is ignited, we see a zombie and hear him moaning and coming towards the light. The flame goes out, and so does the sound…and the zombie apparently stops moving. Once the character reignites the flame the sound and the creature get going again. Rinse and repeat for superficial tension – but where the film really messes up is suddenly the zombie is just gone opting to play hide and seek with its prey, rather than doing the thing ZOMBIES DO! This is just one of many examples of the creatures in the film not adhering to the premise, and operating as cheap scare mechanisms rather than functional storytelling.
There are a few cool moments in this movie, but I think fans of films (both the other Resident Evil ones and just movies in general) and the R.E. games will find that this return to Racoon City was far from welcoming. These games have great characters and compelling stories that make a movie that actually leans on them seem like a good idea – but instead, we end up with this weak facsimile. Why use an existing IP and then bastardize the characters so much that they only share the name and a little bit of the look from the source material? Is it just to piss off the fans, or to satisfy some weird fanfiction desires? Either way, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.