Unless you haven’t been living under a rock these last two years, you will have spent at least some of that time lamenting the absence of a new Resident Evil movie. “It’s been four years!” you probably cried. “I haven’t waited that long for a Resident Evil movie since the last one!” Well fear not – mostly because it isn’t scary, but it does technically exist: a reboot of a franchise that ended so recently Adele was the same age she is now.
With husband-and-wife team Paul W. S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich out of the picture, the series is given whatever the opposite of a shiny new facelift is (a dreary old disfigurement?) by serial shark botherer Johannes Roberts. Gone are the Matrix fight scenes and cyberpunk aesthetics that already seemed dated in 2002, replaced by a small-town horror setup closer to the original games. It combines games 1 and 2 so takes place in 1998, when Claire (Crawl‘s Kaya Scodelario) returns to Raccoon City to find her brother (Robbie Amell) – a member of the Raccoon Police.
The novelty of Roberts’ approach works until we realise “Raccoon Police” is a case of false advertising, at which point a crushing disappointment sets in (especially if you brought young children along) and continues to rot for 100 tedious minutes. To the filmmaker’s credit, this new direction allows for unprecedented (ie. trace) amounts of story and characterisation. He swaps the usual industrial music for 1998 hits by The Cardigans and Jennifer Paige, incorporating ’90s technology (remember PalmPilots?) and faithful sets recreated from the games. Roberts also deploys slow horror sequences that were never a feature of the earlier films, whose only creepy aspects were glimpses into Anderson’s sexual fantasies.
All of which is good in theory but let down in the execution. The visuals are now dull and ugly rather than garish and ugly, the CGI barely moving on in 20 years. The stupidity levels are the same as ever, with nobody aiming for the zombies’ heads and one cop (Avan Jogia) sleeping through the explosion of an oil tanker mere yards away from him. There is even a part of you that misses Anderson’s throw-everything-at-the-wall style that was occasionally diverting in its daftness.
What continues to be missing though from Welcome to Raccoon City (apart from someone who knows what you shouldn’t call a film) is the “Why?”, that element of connection that makes a scenario that’s fun to play into something you can also watch. Why should I care? Who are these people? And where are those damn racoons? In that sense it is as though the series never went away. Because it didn’t.