I watch a lot of movies — probably too many movies — but none had ever caused me physical pain until Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a messy attempt at reinvigorating the cinematic side of the world’s most lucrative trans-media zombie-horror franchise.
Sure, it starts amiably enough: A flashback introduces us to Claire and Chris Redfield, two orphans living in the Raccoon City Orphanage, which is owned by the clearly evil Umbrella Corporation. Claire is visited by a ghastly ghost each night that desperately wants to tell her something, but Dr. Birkin (Neal McDonough) keeps a tight watch and the message is never relayed. This little capsule horror bit feels inspired by James Wan’s Conjuring films and it’s reasonably spooky, a good start to a film that immediately loses its momentum by cutting to an adult Claire (Kaya Scodelario) hitchhiking back to the city she apparently fled soon after the introductory sequence. From there, the film becomes a series of nearly non-sequitur introductions to characters and live-action re-creations straight from the video games. It’s a swirling vortex of incoherency. It gave me a migraine.
The first six Resident Evil movies were financially successful but mostly derided by fans of the games, who hated their lack of fidelity to the source material. That’s fair: It’s not like Resident Evil is a particularly complex setup. Goofy Evil Scientists, Haunted House or Police Station or Village, whatever. Paul W.S. Anderson and his wife, Milla Jovovich, made the films they wanted to make, usually peppering in video-game lore if it suited their purposes. Thing is, a handful of those films are pretty good on their own merits and certainly better than Raccoon City, which is so concerned with appeasing the five fans who care.
Somehow Raccoon City stumbles its way through the simplest setup of all, a slow-burn Zombie Nightmare. By the end of the first act, we’re introduced to eight named characters whose presences are clearly supposed to speak for themselves We have Claire, Chris (Robbie Amell), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia), Brian Irons (Donal Logue), Richard Aiken (Chad Rook) and Ben Bertolucci (Josh Cruddas). This is a Wikipedia cast list with more hyperlinks for the characters than the performers playing them and yet we only meet about three townsfolk to be zombified. When shit hits the fan in act two, the damn thing isn’t even plugged in.
Johannes Roberts wrote and directed Resident Evil, but it doesn’t feel like the kind of simple thriller he’s mostly made his name directing. There’s no horror or tension to any of the story, no sense of scale, no foreboding and doom. There are a couple of decent jump-scares early on, but the movie is over-reliant on them. Fans will be happy, I guess, to see the film run concurrent remakes of the original Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 by splitting its cast into adventures in a haunted mansion and a police station, respectively, but neither plot goes anywhere. I laughed out loud when the mansion portion turns into a big zombie-filled shoot-’em-up out of nowhere. Where did those monsters come from? Where did any of these people come from? It’s a city full of colorful cops. It’s also set in the 1990s, which means Logue yells out references to the era’s popular culture for some reason.
Raccoon City is certainly one of the worst films of the year, incompetent in every respect. It’s a mess that may placate a handful of fans, but anyone who cared enough about this franchise to make it a part of their personality is probably annoying and not worth listening to. Like Mortal Kombat this year, it’s built to start a franchise about characters it never fleshes out. Unlike Mortal Kombat, which had its violent charms, nothing here pleases on a basic horror-survival level.
That all being said, it’s the only movie to suck so hard it caused me physical pain, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart. Heck, I’ll probably buy the Blu-ray.