"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

To me, I suspect, the phrase “Resident Evil” will always mean the Milla Jovovich sci-fi-action-horror series that spanned six movies and fourteen years, kicking off at the start of the 21st century zombie movie revival, swerving into mimicry of MAD MAX and THE MATRIX, and ending somewhat disappointingly, but also somewhat admirably, with yet another look and feel. It’s a unique pop culture creation, a pleasingly lowbrow mix of styles, sampling a wide range of gimmicks and trends (zombies, nu metal, wire fu, 3-D, speed-ramping) and teaching me to really like Paul W.S. Anderson after all. But in 2016 they called it quits and moved on to MONSTER HUNTER.

I personally wasn’t looking for a reboot (in the original sense of the word – actually starting over fresh) as a straight horror movie. But it makes sense, since, from what I understand, that’s what the video games that inspired the movies were like. (In fact, George Romero directed a commercial for the video game and was attached to a movie version well before Anderson.) And I’m happy to report that in contrast to the first RESIDENT EVIL (one of the only entries in the series I didn’t much enjoy) this new one called RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY is actually a pretty good little horror movie.

It has some of the same elements as that original one, presumably taken from the game: a mansion, secret tunnels, trying to escape on a subway. But it immediately looks and feels like a different sort of thing, opening in an orphanage at night, where some dirty, spindly claws touch the face of a little girl named Claire (Lily Gail Reid, Killjoys) while she sleeps. It’s a really well done sequence where she wakes up and can just barely make out a face across the room in the dark and follows this grunting, crawling person wearing a creepy mask and a hospital bracelet that says her name is Lisa Trevor. I like that little Claire is friendly to Lisa, treating her like a normal person and asking her about herself. She can’t really talk but she writes down in scratchy writing that she lives “BELOW.”

Then we jump to 1998, when little Claire has grown into cool red leather jacket wearing Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario, MOON, CLASH OF THE TITANS, CRAWL), heading back to Raccoon City to warn her brother Chris (Robbie Amell, THE BABYSITTER) about an impending catastrophe. Even if she hadn’t been tipped off about dangerous experiments by some guy in a chat room (Josh Cruddas, POLAR) she might’ve figured it out when the sexual harassy truck driver she hitched a ride with (Pat Thornton) ran over a woman in the road and she turned into a zombie and the driver’s doberman licked her blood and became a monster. Raccoon City is not a good place to be right now!

After that prologue and the title, composer Mark Korven (CUBE, THE WITCH, THE LIGHTHOUSE)’s pulsing synths over choir accompany a title card about this place becoming a ghost town as the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, the Umbrella Corporation, relocates to a new headquarters. “All that remains is a skeleton crew of the last few employees…”

(long pause…)

“…and those too poor to leave.”

That theme doesn’t really come out too much in the movie, I’m afraid, but it’s a hell of a badass John Carpentery way to kick off the proceedings. As the story progresses we’ll meet a set of colorful characters like you’d expect in a video game movie, including Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen, TOMB RAIDER, READY PLAYER ONE, “Ghost” from ANT-MAN AND THE WASP) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper, TERMINATOR: DARK FATE), Chris’s colleagues in the mostly-unexplained Special Tactics And Rescue Service Alpha Team. Also you got this regular cop named Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP). I appreciate the middle initial so we know he’s not supposed to be Leon Isaac Kennedy, star of the PENITENTIARY trilogy. He seems sensitive and long-haired for a cop, and the others are dicks to him and constantly refer to him being a rookie. He doesn’t even humor them about it, he just seems miserable. But I guess that makes him more likable.

I was happy to see Donal Logue (BLADE) show up as the yelling asshole police chief Irons. And Neal McDonough (STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI) plays William Birkin, a scientist who was a father figure to the Redfields when they grew up in the orphanage but they didn’t know he was doing depraved human experiments for the Umbrella Corporation the whole time. Mostly on the other kids! They came this close to being brought “below” with Lisa Trevor.

This is a cool role for McDonough because first of all, he’s in both the present day and the flashbacks, so he gets to wear a wig with bangs to look younger, and second because (SPOILER) at the end he’s transformed into a hideous monster. I could be mistaken but I believe it was a really effective hybrid of makeup effects and digital enhancements, so you got the familiar McDonough face with nasty spikes and pulsing lumps growing off of him, including huge wet eyeballs on his shoulder. Good stuff. (Creature design by Daniel Carrasco, HELLBOY, MALIGNANT.)

I love that the Milla series has lots of running up walls and flipping and stuff, but this is not that kind of party. You could say it’s a little action-y in the sense that many of the characters are cops or agents doing alot of shooting, but I appreciate that it’s not real glamorous. The gunshots are loud and scary and a well-meaning character trying to stop a legitimate evil plan ends up shooting an innocent civilian woman in front of her daughter, then pointing the gun at the daughter and feeling horrible about it.

Writer/director Johannes Roberts (who did those shark movies 47 METERS DOWN) and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (who did that alligator movie CRAWL) are good at setting a tone and staging good scares. They seem particularly fond of that gag where we see something in the distance and realize that it’s headed right for us before the characters do. In one case it’s a crashing helicopter, another time it’s a semi truck, once it’s a zombie, and then a second zombie rushes in from the side while we we’re distracted by the first one. Sleight of hand.

I suppose some of that could be described as action too, but much of the runtime is dedicated to building the dark-and-stormy-night atmosphere and the tension of these characters trying to defend themselves as disaster approaches. Lots of scare set pieces mostly set in the dark hallways of the isolated buildings they hole up in. And some very cool monsters. Even a creepy animated crow that writhes around on the ground after crashing into the building. You get used to horror movies where they don’t have the resources to create creatures like that, so you gotta appreciate when they can afford to be excessive. There’s a part where there’s an explosion and they have a cow grazing in the foreground and he gets blown into the air by it – I wondered if it was an homage to the cow in the TWISTER trailer that was such a sensation at the time. I’m leaning yes.

Speaking of “at the time,” the movie doesn’t go overboard with the 1998 period detail, but they mention a new Planet Hollywood and renting at Blockbuster, and there’s a Palm Pilot. Also the soundtrack features The Cardigans and 4 Non Blondes. But I didn’t notice, like, a REPLACEMENT KILLERS poster or anything.

There was a little bit in the middle where I thought maybe I was losing interest, but then it swings back hard with a scene that would justify the whole movie even if the rest of it was bad. The beauty of it is the sudden appearance of chaotic weirdness, so be warned that I’m gonna go ahead and describe/spoil it here as evidence for anyone who’s not sold on the movie yet. Officer Leon Not Isaac Kennedy is alone in a hallway seeing some spooky shit with the lights flickering and swinging as something moves around above them. Then suddenly he comes face-to-face with some SILENT HILL shit – a freaky person-under-the-stairs type whose hands are bound in a piece of wood and who’s wearing a bizarre mask turned crooked with a chunk of hair extruding from one eyehole and her deformed face peeking out through a loose seam on the side. I think it’s some kind of dummy or scarecrow face she’s wearing but it could be a Leatherface situation – it’s unclear. And we know this is Lisa Trevor, from the prologue, but he doesn’t know who that is. Anyway, she gestures for silence, then points up.

Claire and Chief Irons hear Kennedy freaking out and come find him, but somehow Lisa has disappeared. As he fumbles over himself trying to explain what he saw, we learn what Lisa was pointing at because a giant tentacle-like tongue reaches down from the ceiling, grabs Irons from behind and yanks him off screen to be munched to death and dumped unceremoniously to the ground.

Thanks to modern technology this CG monster looks much better than the equivalent ones in the early RESIDENT EVIL movies, but that’s not what makes this scene great. What makes this scene great is that the movie’s best character, “Lethal” Lisa Trevor, savagely attacks the thing, using the board she’s stockaded in to choke him, wrapping her legs around him like a jiujitsu move, eventually creating enough pressure to slice his head off. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Lisa mutters “friend” so that Claire knows she remembers her from childhood. When they leave on an elevator, Kennedy looks at Claire and says, “You got some weird friends.”

Unfortunately he says it like he’s mad. If he would’ve said it as a joke it would’ve been a great one, but instead he sounds like an ungrateful bastard who doesn’t appreciate that his life was just saved by that “weird friend.”

And that’s pretty much my only nitpick of WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY. Otherwise it was a fun time, and I appreciate the hospitality. I think this movie got bad reviews, but it did decent for pandemic times and I’m sure more people will catch on by they time they make another one, if they decide to.

Note: I really didn’t plan for this to follow my reviews of BURST CITY, FEAR CITY, ALPHABET CITY and DARK CITY. Unfortunately the rest of this week’s reviews will not have “city” in the title. I apologize for the inconvenience.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 14th, 2022 at 7:01 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Videogame. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City”

  1. Da fuck? How come I didn’t know about that one? Every time I heard “New RESIDENT EVIL reboot”, I thought it was some computer animated Netflix show (which apparently is gonna made too). I haven’t been that out of the loop in terms of new movie releases since I was in elementary school.

  2. The chorus of “it’s not bad, actually” reviews that greeted this one is compelling me to check it out.

    Looking forward to your review of STORY FROM THE WEST SIDE OF THE CITY (2021).

  3. CJ, I think it’s even more confusing than that, I believe there’s;
    1) A Netflix Animated series that launched back in July
    2) This Live-Action movie from a couple of months back
    3) A Live-Action Netflix series due this year
    All within the span of a year to 18 months, none connected to each other, all (I’m guessing) solid 6/10 experiences. But I do plan on seeing this film.

  4. Everybody is always trying to make their homage to 80s Carpenter but it’s not to see somebody making a film that’s a love letter to 90s John Carpenter.

  5. When I saw a trailer for this movie, my first thought was, “I thought this was going to be a TV show.” Honestly, I’m much more interested in a rebooted film than a TV show or cartoon or whatever. I’ve only played the second and third game way back in the day, so I’m a little curious to see how it translates. I’m happy to see it gets the Vern seal of approval.

  6. I like that they went with a horror approach this time…although I saw it a few weeks ago and don’t remember a single thing about it.

  7. As an on-again, off-again fan of the game series, I found this movies avalanche of references and Easter eggs a little desperate. “Don’t worry about those other movies, guys. See, she said ‘Jill Sandwich’. Obviously we are True Fans”. And I bet they are, but they were so busy stuffing in two games worth of characters, locations and cutscenes that they forgot to put a movie in there. I think that’s where some of the “chaotic weirdness” you describe comes from; a desire to recreate bits from the games regardless of whether they make sense. It’s nowhere near as bad as, say, MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION (few movies are), it’s just not very engaging or memorable. Maybe it plays better to someone unfamiliar with the games.

  8. I remember reading about a Resident Evil live-action Netflix series with Lance Reddick as Wesker, and when the trailer for this dropped (with the slowed down 4 Non Blondes song) I assumed this must have been it… but reading this review, I have learned that it’s a movie, not a series, and that Tom Hopper played Wesker. So did I misunderstand what I read about the live-action series and Lance Reddick? I looked it up, and it appears no, i understood perfectly! There is still a series coming out in 2022 and Reddick is playing Wesker.

    That’s pretty odd, right? Two totally separate live-action Resident Evils coming out within a year of each other on Netflix, and they’re not the same continuity?

  9. Glad to hear it turned out OK, I did not expect that. Nice!

    A small aside- The Resident Evil games actually are direct descendants from the video game adaptation of a 1989 movie, Sweet Home. As in, they wanted to remake the 1989 game with more modern technology, but had to write around the fact that Capcom didn’t have the rights for the movie or the previous game any more.
    The movie inspiration for the game was directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (who later went on to direct my favorite J-horror, Pulse) and it’s a fun over-the-top horror film in its own right; Kind of a Japanese Poltergeist with some really good effects and excellent visuals. It includes thoroughly excellent kills (one of them referencing Friday the 13th part II!), great FX work by the great Dick Smith, a bizarre bit where the movie stops dead so you can hear a character sing an entire song, an undead baby and a truly great shot of a model building being destroyed (finish watching the credits!)
    I have a lot of affection for it, though it’s got tons of pacing issues, bad comedy, and is really hard to find (it’s up in its entirety on youtube, though the quality isn’t great). Can’t recommend it enough.

  10. CrustaceanLove- This isn’t on Netflix, at least not yet, it was in theatres and is now on ye DVD and Blu-Ray. It is still kind of odd.

  11. Good to know this is a fun and effective B-movie. Sometimes thats all we need in life. I was gonna see it for Hannah Mark-Kamen’ s eyes alone, but this sounds like the rest of it is worth the time

  12. Okay. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person confused by the sixteen bajillion Resident Evil projects going on right now. I wonder how this “Fuck it, why not” strategy is going to work out for them.

  13. Pacman, thanks, that makes a little more sense. I guess I just assumed it was on Netflix. Those other projects just made me associate Resident Evil with Netflix, I guess.

  14. You’re welcome, and sorry I misidentified you as CrustaceanLove!

  15. On and thank you for that interesting trivia dreadguacamole. My experiences with the RE video games are actually fairly brief (a bit of CODE VERONICA) but I still think of them fondly because I remember thinking they looked cool from from magazine articles in the 90s (I had an N64 through the PS1 Generation, so that ruled out playing the first one, not that my mum would have been too keen on me having it anyway).

  16. Judging from the comments, almost nobody else except @CrustaceanLove and me have seen the movie.
    And my feelings towards it are the exact same as @CrustaceanLove too. The movie is BAD. And even worst, it starts with some atmosphere and tricks you into thinking “hey, they might have something here”. They don’t. It’s a shitshow. Laughable FX. Bad acting. Ridiculous ending with a PS2 graphics level monster. And I’m not even a fan of the games so I didn’t even have the luxury of acknowledging all the callbacks.

    My man Vern, usually as we all get older we get crankier and harder to please. Lately you seem to go the other route, giving passable if not good grades to bad movies! There’s a reason this thing has a 5.2 on imdb from 35k people. I liked 2 of the director’s previous movies and that suckered me in. That’s 2 hours I’ll never get back!

  17. I apologize for not appropriately aging into a joyless grump trying to drag readers into a pit of suffocating nitpickery, that’s on me. But whatever problems you may have with the movie, not enjoying these great monsters is simply punishing yourself. Look at those guys! Come on!

  18. There is something to being a joyless grump. I mean, what I like about youse, Vern, as a critic is that you seem to go into every movie wanting to be entertaining and expressing what you appreciate about what a movie does, not as an excuse to snark about how dumb it is. I can admire that attitude with low-budget, harmless B-movies… but that kind of boosterism does feel a little obscene when it comes to glossy, multimillion dollar studio flicks. Like, I don’t know, it’s edging into excusing their mediocrity. I’m just more of a ‘commitment to excellence’ guy than a ‘well, they tried real hard’er.

  19. I definitely liked the movie…not to the extent that I can barely remember anything about it or want to see it again, but for the time I watched it, it was fun enough. I remember the opening stuff in the town being really nice though, moody and creepy. I liked the lady in the skins but I don’t remember what she did. Huh maybe I ought to see this again.

  20. First of all, a reply from Vern is a serious badge of honor. I mean it.
    Second, @Kaplan encapsulated what I meant even better. Yes, Dead Heat is to be celebrated even if it’s not great but just OK. But “Racoon City”, a glossy reboot of a many movies and games property needs to live up to its peers at least to get a pass.
    I too am more of a “strive for excellence” guy on these movies and since I’ve read you for many many years it’s only lately I see you giving some passing if not good grades to, in my humble opinion, failing movies.

    PS – Rant

    My mind has erased MUCH of this movie but two things I still remember vividly.
    A fun being “shot” on the zombie in the prison cell with the fakest ever muzzle flash / gun smoke. Asylum level.

    And the worst offender of most movies I’ve seen the last couple of years:

    An inspired one-shot of a burning man walking into the precinct being totally undone by the worst, fakest, most laughable fire cgi this side of Roger Corman’s unreleased fantastic four.
    The movie lost me at that exact point and went only worst there after. WHY??? Stunt men STILL do stunts. Even burning ones. As I was seeing it I remembered some documentary talking about a stuntman as Freddy Kruger on fire going on a whole bit down the stairs, up the stairs, running around, like 2 minutes worth. And these mfers couldn’t try it for real?? Then DON’T DO IT!
    The scene was already preceded by a super-fake truck capsizing / blowing up, so the one-two punch of truck / man on fire made this into a Saturday morning cgi cartoon.

    End of rant.

  21. I mean what am I supposed to do, pretend I didn’t enjoy it to fit in? I think I gave a thorough enough explanation of what I liked, with examples and even photographic illustrations. I’m not faking it. Insinuating I’m lying or lost my edge because I’m supposed to get mad about the same things you do or because $25 million is too high of a budget accomplishes nothing except make me feel bad. I’m still gonna have the same unacceptable tastes and write the same idiotic reviews, I’ll just feel shittier about it. How about you just explain what you didn’t like about the movie instead of turning it into a referendum on me?

  22. Hey, nobody is trying to make you feel bad!
    Most of the people here wrote they will see it because of your review, which believe me, is something your readership does ALL the time. I’ve hunted movies because of you numerous times. You are our hero, and so WE feel bad when WE don’t like what you like.

    Sometimes, we go back to the movie to try and find its merits BECAUSE of your review of it after we didn’t like.
    And sometimes the movie is… “Racoon city” :-)

  23. Ohh yeah I remember that CG fire now…wow that was terrible. CG muzzle flashes have been a real go-to for Hollywood lately and they always look like shit…but after Alec Baldwin will probably be seeing even more of them.

  24. I know Petros. I was gonna delete that comment but you saw it already. I get frustrated sometimes when it feels like people are telling me to be somebody I’m not. But I know nobody meant any harm. Just like Julia Trevor in the movie.

  25. I’ve always appreciated Vern’s ability to see the glimmers of goodness, potential, or inspired oddity in otherwise bad or just-okay films. Like a film’s cool uncle, he’s going to see the potential and be encouraging about that and speak into it (“I liked x about this film.”). It has helped me to be less oriented toward categorical takes in terms of a need to decide whether the film was or was not “good.” Although I am a hopeless nit-picker (even and especially of films I enjoy), and although I am less shy about offering crude summary dismissals of films I regard as bad, the Vern Path has helped me to be a little more open-minded and less judgey. A lot of the films reviewed here do not interest me or are not in my wheelhouse, but even for those, I still appreciate discovering what Vern liked about them or found intriguing about them in the first place.

    Anyway, it’s more pleasant than just dunking on bad films, and I think if you’re around here long, you can detect gradations of enthusiasm. Like in this review, the main evaluative expressions I found were “was losing interest” and “fun time,” which for me translates to “nothing amazing, but diverting enough and has its moments.”

  26. I am someone who very rarely feels like I completely wasted my time watching a movie. While I obviously have films I love, films I only like, and films I even hate (with gradients in all categories) I find things to appreciate in most films, and, often, actively enjoy movies that “the internet” has deemed terrible or unwatchable. I appreciate that Vern and I seem to be on the same wavelength most of the time. It’s refreshing to read a critic who enjoys movies.

  27. I am one of the most negative people I’ve ever met in my life, and I appreciate that Vern is the opposite of that. I already know everything sucks. I don’t need anybody reminding me. I am rarely swayed by his positivity, but I hope he knows that I respect it.

  28. I came to Outlaw Vern Dot Com because the reviews were funny and cool, and I stayed because of the positivity, empathy, and humanism (and the jokes). I like that Vern always looks for the good stuff, and I like that he finds good stuff even in movies I don’t like, or changes my perception of films in new and interesting ways. And he’s definitely pointed me towards a lot of great stuff I would have overlooked.

    Sorry to talk about you in the third person, Vern. I certainly appreciate how you’ve grown as a writer and as a person. And I am trying to do the same. Don’t ever change. Or, uh, keep changing. Whichever one is better.

    Also I definitely want to see this movie even though I’ve played maybe 20 minutes of Resident Evil 4 one time and I’ve seen none of the previous films.

  29. Ha, that’s nice, Majestyk.

    I’m sorry, I think I was being overly sensitive in that comment. I don’t think I should’ve taken it personally or pushed back so hard against the idea of being too easy on movies. I don’t agree with that way of looking at things, but I should be able to take the criticism and consider it. I do want to say though, for what it’s worth, that some of the “Action Twitter” and “Horror Twitter” people I follow liked WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY too, so I am not some lone weirdo on this one. Though I’m used to being that.

  30. If “liking” a movie can be defined as liking more about a movie then you disliked it, then I liked this. It was better constructed and/or more thoughtfully put together than most or all of the Milla/Wii Sports films, but the issue is at least half of those movies have moments and scenes I remember fondly years later, wheras I don’t think I’ll be able to remember anything specific from this by the end of the year.

    My only major issue with this movie? The same as so many recent movies and TV shows; poor lighting. I know it’s meant to be in the dark but there’s a way you can light a scene in the dark so you can still see everything perfectly well. I know because this was (rarely) a problem until recently! I guess we have to apologies to AvP: REQUIEM, it was just ahead of its time. OK, it’s not *that* bad, and few things are, but it sadly seems like it would be less noticable if it came out now. I guess it might be partly informed by the games, but it just doesn’t make for an appealing film experience.

    I like the idea behind the incongruous use of Crush by Jennifer Page while the burning man walks into reception, but I don’t think it quite comes off. It would have been funnier and more era appropriate if they’d used that Van Halen Mark III song from the opening scene of LETHAL WEAPON 4.

    I did like Donal Louge (who I thought was Lochlyn Munro for a second) being a Journey fan; nice touch as movies generally forget that people don’t only listen to music from their own era. Although I don’t think anyone would have been caught dead listening to the 4 Non Blondes song in 1998.

    I did like the cast, especially the two female leads, although Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine (I know that name!) feels slightly wasted after her cool intro scene. I guess they’re probably saving stuff up a bit for a YOUR SECOND VISIT TO RACCOON CITY that currently seems unlikely to happen.

    Also, you probably don’t need me to tell you this but that Netflix show has now launched, so (Jill) Valentine’s Day Pacman 2.0 was off with his “three projects in 18 months” prediction, it’s been three projects in just over a year (53 weeks!). He might have been more on the mark with his “all solid 6/10s” comment; I just watched the first episode and it’s pretty much what you’d expect, but admittedly better than I thought it would be. It also clearly had A LOT more money spent on it than RACCOON CITY, even though it’s for subscribers at no extra cost, whereas this was made for ticket buyers. I don’t get modern Hollywood economics.

  31. Following up on the comment I posted above, the rest of the Netflix series was pretty bad, I didn’t realise I was watching the last episode while I was watching it, which might be on me, but at the end of the final episode I hadn’t realised it was the final episode so unsatisfying was the conclusion, which I think is at least partly on them, and it will now stand as the conclusion forever because they’re not making a Season 2. Lance Reddick was fun, production values were decent, but that’s about it. Better luck next reboot, whatever form that takes.

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