Monday, 3 January 2022

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

With Paul WS Anderson and Milla Jovovich out of the picture, it falls to Johannes Roberts to reanimate the big screen ambitions of Capcom's hugely successful video game series. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes back to the original PlayStation games - or, rather, the recent remakes of those first few entries - to tell the story of small town America on the verge of collapse. Instead of a designer virus transmitted from a chemical weapons facility to the wider population via infected wildlife though, writer-director Roberts locates Raccoon City firmly within the American poison belt. Portrayed in the console series as a warren of interconnected shops and bars - distinctly Japanese urban planning transplanted to Midwestern America - this Raccoon City is a predominantly working class podunk that has been slowly and methodically contaminated over the course of decades. 

While Kaya Scodelario's Claire Redfield roots around dingy suburbs in search of her brother, the mother and child next door loom in their rundown home, peering out of windows so we can note that their scalps have been picked clean. Across town, a truck stop waitress weeps blood and thinks nothing of it - spontaneous haemorrhaging apparently an everyday occurrence in this neighbourhood. When an enforced lockdown goes into effect the town's police are subordinated then routed. Gas mask commandoes line the roads, executing the handful of citizens who have made it as far as the blockades. In its early passages Welcome to Raccoon City, a period piece set in the late 1990s, captures the rhythms of that era's straight-to-video action horror; specifically the micro-budget sequels destined for Blockbusters. 

Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre manufacture the look and feel of a Dimension Films shelf-filler - from the pitch black sets broken up by gun mounted torches to a sulphurous, emergency exit, approach to lighting. As Welcome rattles on towards its conclusion though this niche approach to entertainment completely breaks down into a rote, unexciting, remix of its source material. Roberts' film leaps back-and-forth between the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil and the equally labyrinthine police station from Resident Evil 2; events in either location failing to build a collective tension or even trigger some unseen, diabolical, mechanism. The insidious evil of a pharmaceutical corporation that keeps a paramilitary unit on its books gets away from Roberts as well, Welcome preferring to default to an aimless series of confrontations with crude, computer generated, creatures. 

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