Good, let alone great, movie adaptations of video games are hard to find. For every Werewolves Within there’s a handful of Alone in the Dark or House of the Dead duds. Though it spawned six movies, the Resident Evil series never won over critics. In fact, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the highest rated movie with only a 37% rotten rating. And we all know Paul WS Anderson’s (Event Horizon) 2002 original adaptation is really the peak of the franchise. Apparently, however, video game fans weren’t satisfied with with that first movie or any of its sequels. Hence, Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City – a mix of stripped down remake and origin story – exists. Sony Entertainment dumped the movie post-Halloween in November. Maybe they had high hopes. Or perhaps they knew something critics have already pointed out.
For years Raccoon City was a booming small American town. But now that its chief employer, the mysterious Umbrella Corporation has begun pulling it operations, Racoon City has slowly withered away. But Umbrella left something behind, buried in labs under the city streets. Now its remaining residents find themselves fighting to escape their small town before that secret devours them.
Welcome to Racoon City Reboots Too Many Familiar Ideas
In all likelihood, Resident Evil fans will argue that writer and director Johannes Roberts’ (47 Meters Down: Uncaged, The Strangers: Prey at Night) adaptation is more faithful to the original video games. And yes, in many ways, Welcome to Racoon City takes things back to basics. Unlike Anderson’s bombastic 2002 treatment, the reboot is stripped down and focused on its survival horror roots. Moreover, video game purists may appreciate Roberts’ more canonical treatment of the series’ characters. What works in a small-screen video game, however, doesn’t necessarily translate well to the big screen. Despite a decent set-up that promises the same atmospheric scares as the game itself, Welcome to Racoon City fails on multiple accounts.
What works in a small-screen video game, however, doesn’t necessarily translate well to the big screen.
Chief among its problems, Roberts can’t strike a balance between small-screen scares and big-screen action. Early in the movie, Welcome to Racoon City has a few tense moments and an occasional scare. But a sense of familiarity undoes most of these scenes. In addition to Anderson’s version, there are dozens of zombie movies following a similar set-up. Movie teases some viral infection or other zombie catalyst. Same movie introduces us to character whom we’ll grow attached alongside a handful we can’t wait to see get eviscerated. Zombie chaos quickly follows. Given the deja vu storyline, Roberts takes far too long introducing that zombie chaos. Moreover, the atmosphere and scares are pretty muted here. Even if Silent Hill isn’t a perfect movie, it’s soaked in atmosphere. Comparatively, Welcome to Racoon City feels perfunctory – it’s all set-up, little pay-off.
Welcome to Racoon City Can’t Get Its Action or Horror Right
Though it’s more focused on horror elements, Welcome to Racoon City wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Series fans will still find plenty of shoot ’em scenes here. And there’s certainly explosions and big crashes. What’s missing this time around is a skillful treatment of those moments. That is, Roberts doesn’t show the same flair for action as Anderson. In addition, poor lighting obscures much of this action and the subsequent gross-out scenes. Over and over again, Welcome to Racoon City lets it big moments unfold in the dark. If the original Resident Evil included some silly action scenes at least it was memorable. Most of the special effects this time around are decent. They’re just wasted on creatures that lack any of the originality of the 2002 original or Silent Hill.
Unfortunately, for the majority of the audience unfamiliar with the games, this won’t be much of a consolation.
Arguably, Roberts gets the beloved video game characters right this time. Unfortunately, for the majority of the audience unfamiliar with the games, this won’t be much of a consolation. Once again a capable cast of familiar faces joins in on the zombie action. Both Kayla Scodelario (Crawl) and Robbie Amell (The Babysitter, The Babysitter: Killer Queen) know there way around horror movies. As fan favorites Claire and Chris Redfield, Scodelario and Amell do perfectly well with the material in front of them. Jill Valentine is here as well, with Marvel alum Hannah John-Kamen in the role. In fact, Roberts drew most of the reboot’s characters from the game itself. There’s also lots of other familiar faces playing those roles. Maybe Sony Entertainment anticipated another batch of sequels, hence the casting of reliable character actors like Daniel Logue and Neal McDonough.
Video Game Fans My Love It, But Everyone Else Should Just Hit Cancel
Never has a movie made me miss Paul WS Anderson more than Welcome to Racoon City. Maybe this hybrid of prequel and remake improves on the 2002 remake in some areas. Too bad I’m hard-pressed to figure out where it’s an upgrade. Maybe the special effects are better. But so Roberts hides so much of the action in the dark that’s really hard to say if the effects are that much better. While the original Resident Evil had some B-movie charm, Welcome to Racoon City takes itself far too seriously. In spite of the talent behind and in front of the camera, the end result is ultimately dull and unimaginative – certainly not what you waned out of a movie intended to kickstart a new series.