Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is best video game movie in years

Layne Robinson, Writer

Historically, movies based on video games have a terrible track record, and, as a result, they often get a bad rap as a genre. Going into Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, I was skeptical, ready for a poorly acted, cash grab mess along the lines of Super Mario Bros. (1993). However, I was pleasantly surprised. Resident Evil is everything a video game movie should be, including an absolute joy to watch.

From the first shot, it is clear that this movie cares about setting the right tone. It begins with eeriness and an air of classic horror, leaning hard into the audience’s expectations for the look and feel of a scary movie. Throughout the beginning, there is slow, creeping dread, as well as jarring, shocking jumpscares. It hits on many typical horror tropes: an orphaned child seeing monsters no one will believe are real, decaying small towns, a mysterious stranger hitchhiking at night. All of this tells the audience that they can rest assured because, first and foremost, this is a horror movie.

Throughout the rest of the film, Resident Evil builds its horror through sound design, visuals, and environment. After the first hit-and-run car accident, I knew that this movie’s sound would stick with me. Resident Evil’s monsters are offshoots of zombies, and as such, the film emphasizes grotesque body horror, aided by the care taken with the way these creatures sound. Cracking and squelching, belabored breath and the wails of the dying bring viewers into Raccoon City and make it feel all the more terrifying.

Aiding these carefully-crafted sounds are the movie’s visuals. I am not sure what combination of CGI and makeup was used to form these monsters, but it is incredibly well-done regardless. Non-zombies of Resident Evil look just as good in a live-action medium as they do in the games, serving as an added layer of immersion. Once again, grotesque is the best word for the way the effects of the G virus are shown, from the slightest bit of well-placed blood to creatures that appear almost entirely inhuman.

It is also essential to note how that environment and set dressing add to the tonal effect. Welcome to Raccoon City is set in the small town of Raccoon City in 1998, and subtle artifacts of the time are everywhere without feeling forced. The old-school police cars and Chris Redfield’s offhand comment about not knowing the phrase chat rooms add to the atmosphere but do not draw the viewer’s attention away from the story. Instead, they subtly build the low-tech, isolated world of Raccoon City, with its vast woods and the all-powerful Umbrella Corporation.

That being said, Resident Evil is not entirely devoid of humor. Light, comedic interactions characterize much of act one, and the horror later in the film is accentuated by the drop-off of these casual jokes. This shift is best seen in one scene of police chief Irons that blends absurd comedy with building dread in a way that few movies can successfully pull off. I will not spoil it, but those few minutes alone are reason enough to see this movie.

The most remarkable thing about Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, though, is the way it truly feels like a video game. It does not simply make a movie out of characters and stories that come from a game; it translates the entire experience of the original into a new medium. The pacing, cinematography, and even the dialogue conjure the image of a played experience rather than a watched one.

This is a movie that is paced like a video game. The amount of time spent exploring environments is reminiscent of the original games, the bulk of which is spent (as with most games of that style) fighting enemies while scouring areas for ways to progress the plot. This sort of exploration is not necessary for a movie but is still included, showing faith in the experience of the source materials. The same thing can be said of the film’s relatively short ending. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the story’s resolution follows the basic video game format of a final boss fight and nothing much after it. There is no epilogue and only a vague implication of what immediately happens to the characters.

Additionally, the camera itself follows the example of the games. Fans of the series who have played the source games, Resident Evil one and two, will notice exact shots from them that have been recreated in the movie. The images original to the film also managed to evoke gaminess, though. Panning shots reveal items in the background, and close-ups frame the characters in a manner more reminiscent of a cutscene than of other movies. It is clear that care has been taken to make Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City feel authentic to the games, down to the details that most people will never notice, like how the camera is placed.

One other aspect adds to this effect that viewers may not expect: the dialogue. The way lines are written and their delivery can be stilted in places or feel not-quite-natural. However, this is far from a detriment of the film. Instead, it manages to make live-action performances feel like video game voice-acting, incidental dialogue that never lines up quite right but adds charm to the playing experience. I cannot claim to know whether this was intentional or not, but it certainly adds to the movie regardless.

Indeed, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is proof that video game movies can be done well and a testament to the potential of a genre bloated with low-effort cash grabs. It balances good humor with great horror and knows how to make a movie feel like a game. It may not be a totally faithful recreation, but it captures the spirit of the original experience in a way that is rarely seen in any adaptation. Most importantly, it is entertaining to watch. I had a great time with this movie, and whether you are a die-hard fan of the games or just an enjoyer of action horror in general, I am sure you will get something out of it as well.