Do you remember the first time you played Resident Evil? The creeping fear, flickering lights, and oppressive feeling that any choice you made doomed you. Nightmarishly atmospheric and eerie, the franchise has long haunted the dreams of gamers everywhere. But the billion dollar movie series that it spawned eschewed that for wild action-packed and often fluorescently lit reimagining. But Johannes Roberts’ entertainingly scary Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a throwback to those early games and, surprisingly, to the fun and often campy ensemble horrors of the ’00s. So if you want to get scared silly while rooting for a group of ragtag heroes this holiday season then you’re in luck.
Based heavily on the first two Resident Evil games, Welcome to Raccoon City centers on the titular town. It was once the beating heart of the notorious Umbrella Corporation. The shady medical group ran a very creepy orphanage which was once home to our hero, Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), and her brother, Chris (Robbie Amell). While Claire ran away years ago, Robbie stayed in town and is now a member of the RCPD. But he’s one of the only people still there; Umbrella has upped and left. The only folks still stuck in Raccoon City are those too poor to leave and those protecting Umbrella’s interests. When Claire hears that something’s afoot in her old hometown she heads back to find her brother.
Roberts drenches Raccoon City in his obvious and loving horror influences. It’s a rain-soaked small town that screams Stephen King. The film plays with Carpenter from the claustrophobic heist of Assault on Precinct 13 to the supernatural slow burn of The Fog. While Roberts is a student of those movies, it doesn’t take away from his dedication to bringing that very specific creeping dread of Resident Evil to the screen. Just like in the games, Raccoon City is its own character and Roberts brings it to life with menace. But just as important are those who inhabit it, and that cast might be the film’s biggest strength.
Since Tiger House, Skins breakout Scodelario has established herself as a killer lead for a weird dark thriller. That was most recently showcased in Alexandre Aja’s Crawl. While she has less outrageous gymnastics to do here, she’s a stoic and smart lead. Amell plays her brother with jock-ish aplomb. The RCPD really brings something special, though, with Ant-Man and the Wasp’s Hannah John-Kamen standing out as the badass Jill Valentine. If there are more of these movies, the idea of a proper Scodelario and John-Kamen team up feels almost too good to be true. Umbrella Academy’s Tom Hopper is perfect as the morally gray Albert Wesker, and his chemistry with Kamen is powerful. The breakout, however, is Avan Jogia’s himbo dreamboat Leon. He’s our in and constantly provides humor and heart. It’s a killer ensemble that you actually care about which helps when the undead sh*t hits the fan.
One of the most impressive things about Welcome to Raccoon City is how it balances building a world that’s instantly recognizable to fans of the games but also totally accessible to new viewers. In that way it feels like a true crossover horror. If you like zombies you’ll be terrified by Roberts’ grotesque creations, and if you enjoy video games you’ll love the way he translates the visual language of Resident Evil to the screen. There are scares galore and a ton of Easter eggs for those looking. It also has some of the best ’90s needle drops this reviewer has ever heard. Speaking of which, one cast member features in one of the best and we haven’t mentioned him: the magnificent Donal Logue. He leads the RCPD with the appropriate amount of cowardice and menace.
So, although Christmas is slowly creeping nearer, if you want to be scared this holiday season then (if you can) make sure you see Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City on the biggest screen possible. It’s fun, frantic, and frightening in the best way. There’s silliness and scares, as well as an enjoyable cast that will have you hoping for a ton more of these movies. And if there’s any justice in our already franchise-saturated world, there will be.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City premieres November 24.