GORE IN THE STORE
RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACOON CITY ***
Directed by Johannes Roberts.
Starring Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amel, Hannah John-Kamen.
Horror, US, 107 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in the UK in cinemas 3rd December by Sony.
I will confess right from the beginning that I know next to nothing about video games. Everything I know about Resident Evil is half remembered from Paul W.S. Anderson’s franchise adaptation. What follows here then is everything I know about Resident Evil just so we can carry on with this outsider’s perspective in the hope you can forgive me for anything I get wrong or miss out. So, what I know is that there was a lady called Jill Valentine (who wasn’t Milla Jovovich), zombie dogs, a villain with sunglasses ripped off from The Matrix and an umbrella company had something to do with it all. Or something.
It seems that this series reboot is primed for someone as clueless as me. By going back to the beginning and setting the story in 1998 the slate is wiped entirely clean for an all-new storyline. The Umbrella Corporation has been the financial bedrock for Racoon City but is now relocating the business elsewhere, leaving the run down city in a more than depressed state. Returning after escaping from the local orphanage years before is Claire, seeking her twin brother Chris, now a policeman, as well as her own agenda against The Umbrella Corporation. Hitching a lift with an obnoxious trucker, Claire has not even reached the city before literally running into a distressed figure on the road. Leaving nothing behind but a trail of slimy gore the stage is set for a pandemic style narrative as a host of mutated zombies start to lay siege to the city and pursue our cast of heroes, who should already be familiar to fans of the games.
Johannes Roberts takes over directing duties and delivers a surprisingly effective and pacey start to this franchise re-start. Punctuating the events taking course over one night with that John Carpenter style font announcing the time of events throughout the film gives the film a sense of style that is markedly different from what has come before. Dark and grungy and at one point successfully emulating the style of a first-person style shoot ‘em up, to a novice like myself it feels like a more faithful adaptation of the games. Although the plot is threadbare, Roberts’ screenplay zips from one set of characters spread out across the town to the next with a stripped back propulsion that the viewer hardly notices over its swift 100 minute plus running time.
The sly commentary regarding the crisis of small U.S. cities in financial and environmental free fall after corporate interests have dried and covered up their wrong doings gives the film a subtext that never existed before in the previous franchise. It may be heavy handed at points but for a video game adaptation it adds a little more meat to its skeletal bones. Although underdeveloped at times it still manages to be a lot of fun with a certain style, a case in point being the use of Jennifer Paige’s pop song Crush deployed over one particularly explosive set piece. As ever in these films there is an over-reliance on CGI, but at least there is a grotesque sensibility on display that gives the film a certain skin-crawling energy. It may be far from perfect but this promising reboot sets up its future threads quite nicely, particularly in a mid-end credits scene that long-time fans will no doubt get a kick out of.