Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City strives to be the film fans of the popular video game series have always wanted – a faithful adaptation of the source material, depicting characters and scenarios they know and love. Covering the events of the first two games, the movie follows the parallel journeys of siblings Chris and Claire Redfield as they discover the dark secrets of the Umbrella Corporation in an old mansion in the mountains and in the declining, sleepy town of Raccoon City respectively.
The love of the games is palpable throughout the film, incorporating details from both the original and remade versions of Resident Evils 1 and 2. Lisa Trevor. The Raccoon City Orphanage. Jill Sandwich. There’s even what may or may not be a nod to S.D. Perry’s novelization of Resident Evil 2 wherein, the reason 21 year old rookie cop Leon Kennedy arrives late to his first shift on the Raccoon City Police Department, is because he partied too hard the night before. Big mistake buddy.
Putting the Story First
Despite the massive number of beloved faces, locations, and card suit shaped keys packed into the film, it never feels like a soulless fanservice fest. After all, that wasn’t the way that writer/director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) approached it. “Everybody has their different way that they played the game, you know, when they first interacted and how. People approach it in very different ways. So for me, it was story first.”
Story first with a heavy emphasis on the relationship between the characters, characters video games fans have wanted to see done right ever since Jill Valentine showed up alongside Alice in Resident Evil: Apocalypse’s version of Raccoon City–a thriving metropolis compared to the one seen here, even with all the zombies.
The depressing nature of Welcome to Raccoon City’s Raccoon City is serves as a vessel f0r Robert’s interpretation of the characters. “I loved this idea of Chris being this small town hero that has never left, in this dying town. There was something really textured about that, that it really appealed to me, and this kind of Deer Hunter style town.”
Robbie Amell (The Flash, Upload) who vividly remembers the first time he saw the zombie dogs crashing through the windows of the Spencer Mansion on screen as a kid, and prepared for his role as Chris Redfield by doing what any devoted gamer would do: replaying the games, was confident from the get go that he, and Resident Evil, were in the right hands. “After reading his script and meeting with him, it was very clear to me that he was the right person to make this movie and he had such passion for the games and is such a gamer himself. What I thought he did so well was he took these characters that, you know, are maybe a little one dimensional from RE1 and 2, and fleshed them out made them a little more like full, complete, human beings and gave them flaws and built these relationships between them and made you really care about them.”
Exploring New Relationships
Because the film combines the stories of the first two games, characters who never interacted–or didn’t interact until much further down the line when the trials and tribulations of facing endless hordes of mutated monstrosities had shaped them into very different people in the games–get a chance to spend some quality time on screen together.
This is particularly true of Avan Jogia’s Leon Kennedy and Tom Hopper’s Albert Wesker. “He keeps on messing with me,” Jogia says of Hopper, “I’m the co-worker that everybody messes with, I’m the new guy.”
“Yeah, it’s standard,” Hopper agrees, jokingly. “We’re just hazing him, everyone went through it.”
Even Claire Redfield, Resident Evil 2’s leading lady, gets a lot more face to face time with Leon, from whom she is separated for oh, any number of reasons depending on which version of the you’re playing, for the majority of the game. Here, Kaya Scodelario’s Claire acts as a kind of mentor to the in way over his head rookie. “She has this kind of awkward relationship with Leon to begin with in our movie in that he seems to just get in the way, and he’s kind of annoying to her, and I thought that was really funny and really interesting, and it does evolve eventually, they kind of end up being this quite good team and she almost guides him into living his best life.”
Jogia agrees that the contrast between Leon and Claire is central to crafting a story audiences can connect with. “With Claire Redfield…she’s so laser focused in this way, and that’s the way she’s written in Johannes’s world, so to sort of balance that, having someone who is sort of bumbling but not a buffoon, because Leon’s not a buffoon, you know, but he’s sort of like overstimulated and out of his depth.”
And deeply hungover. We’ve all been there.
A Not So Happy Reunion
On the not so simpatico side of the relationship scale are the Redfield siblings, Chris and Claire, whose rocky reunion serves as a catalyst for the story at large. We initially meet them at the start of the film as a pair of young orphans in the Raccoon City Orphanage, with Claire becoming increasingly aware of the fact that something there isn’t quite right (if you’ve played the remake of Resident Evil 2–you know what’s up).
So naturally, when Claire hitches a ride back into town on an ill-fated 18 wheeler and breaks into Chris’s house–an homage to the fact that in-game Claire can pick locks–and starts spouting off theories that something really, really bad is going on, her hometown hero big brother isn’t exactly thrilled to see her.
“He knows something’s going on but he’s not buying all the stuff that she’s saying,” Amell says of Chris’s reaction to Claire’s return. “Their relationship is a mess from when they were kids because…I think Chris probably thought that she was just lying about everything when they were young and then she just disappeared and it was that I’ve [Chris] made a mistake and I want to make it right but also she [Claire] left me and abandoned me.”
On the tension between Claire and Chris, Scodelario says, “I wanted to build on this idea that she doesn’t like being told what to do and that kind of starts with her brother and they have this reunion and it isn’t a big lovey dovey “oh bro I’ve missed you”. In fact, she kind of reverts back into a teenage, petulant child.”
Amell says that processing childhood trauma serves as the driving force behind both characters’ journeys. “They’re kids at the beginning, or you see them as kids in the movie, and a lot of what you see as adults is them coming to terms with the decisions they made when they were younger and trying to forgive each other and trying to forgive themselves.”
He elaborates on Chris’s personal struggle to let go of a life he’s fought so hard to keep intact. “Chris probably should have left this town a while ago but that’s easier to say than to do, he doesn’t have anyone else and anywhere else, he only knows this small town, and now this small town is going to hell and he’s doing everything he can to hold onto what it was and then he has to let that go.”
The Devil is in the Details – Even the Ones Left Out
Fortunately for Amell personally, a longtime fan of the Resident Evil games, stepping into Chris’s shoes and boarding this emotional rollercoaster was a dream come true. On his reaction to seeing the iconic Spencer Mansion, lovingly recreated down to the paintings on the walls, for the first time, he says, “It was unbelievable. I mean, I’ve spent so many hours walking through that room and to be standing there, in the green flak jacket just looking around, it was very surreal and a moment I will never forget.”
While Roberts spares no expense when it comes to attention to detail (he literally got the blueprints from Capcom to create the film’s version of the Raccoon City Police Station) with so much ground to cover storywise, across the first two games, some things had to be omitted. “I did want Barry Burton in there, I fought for Barry, and Rebecca Chambers we talked about, and in the end we decided that hopefully we’ll see them in future installments.”
And fans will be happy to know he did address the elephant–or rather the big greyish, gnarly, deadly claw wielding guy–in the room. “I think probably the biggest thing that I was like, should I, shouldn’t I, should, I shouldn’t I, that I really went back and forth on was the Tyrant. I really love the Tyrant. And we went back and forward on that a lot and in the end I just felt he didn’t belong in this movie, but I still miss him. I created a head, a Tyrant head, that I put as a nod into Birkin’s cold storage locker, but you never see it in the movie properly.”
The Tyrant isn’t the only missing creature Roberts endeavors to pay homage to. There’s a scene in the film where the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha team discusses what the worst way to die would be, with options including, “being eaten by a giant snake”, a reference to the infamous Yawn who killed Bravo Team’s Richard Aiken in the first Resident Evil game. So I asked the cast of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City which creature in the series they would least like to be killed by.
“For me, Lisa Trevor’s always been the creepiest,” says Scodelario, because there’s this childlike quality to her and also the kind of contorting of her body, the way she moves.”
For Jogia, it’s a Resident Evil 2 classic, the t-virus infected sewer alligator. “I think that would be pretty brutal. The sewer alligator in the Resident Evil games was always the most not my favorite.”
Hopper is not a fan of the idea of death by zombie dog. “I think being mauled by a zombie dog would be rough. [A Dog] in general, it’s not great.”
But it’s Amell who lands on the actual correct answer. “To be honest, it might just be a horde of zombies…the other things are stronger and faster and you’re gonna die quicker, you know a Licker or Birkin in one of his bigger forms. That can be quick. I don’t want the horde of zombies picking me off limb by limb.”
And then you also come back as one of them. That’s a big “no thank you”.
Roberts on the other hand has strong feelings about the bio-mutation he does want to be killed by. “The one that I want to take me is the zombie shark. I wanna go out by zombie shark every day of the week.”
He goes on to wax poetic about another creature he was sad to omit from the film. “I always found those, and I was pondering them into the movie is, the plant zombies in the second game. They were in the script for a while and we went back and forward on the plant zombies, and you know, maybe they make an appearance down the line.”
Let’s just hope that, if they do, our intrepid survivors haven’t left their flamethrower in a storage box.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City debuts exclusively in theatres November 24, 2021.
For more Resident Evil content, watch as Avan Jogia takes on Resident Evil 4 in virtual reality on the Meta Quest 2.