The nightmare begins again with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a new cinematic adaptation of the popular video game series. Unlike the previous loosely-based action-packed Resident Evil franchise from Paul W. S. Anderson, Welcome to Racoon City is an origin story that injects more elements of horror into its atmosphere and is faithfully modeled off of the first two Resident Evil games, down to its environments and characters. I briefly spoke to writer and director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, the Strangers: Prey at Night) about what it was like working closely Resident Evil‘s game developers to create this new vision of terror.
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare On Film Street: For fans of Resident Evil, both the games and the Milla Jovovich movies, what can we expect to see that we haven’t seen before?
Johannes Roberts: I think the key for this is it’s very much its own thing. It’s very separate from the previous franchise. And I think what it offers people is, we go back very faithfully to the first two games, which has never really been done before, and really try to recapture the tone and atmosphere of those games. I think what makes it so universally appealing, to not just fans of the game even if it’s so close and has so much love for the game, but also fans of the previous franchise and fans of scary movies, is its key core directive, in my mind, the thing I wanted if I was going to go see that movie, is that it’s scary and that we really try to go for it. It’s gory, but it’s also full of suspense and tension and jumps and scares. I don’t think the Resident Evil world has seen that in cinematic form, in the way we present it.
NOFS: What was it like working with Capcom, particularly with handling the games’ characters?
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JR: Capcom were great! It’s an interesting thing in that my approach on this was very much like “Come on in! Let’s work together rather than hold off at arm’s length.” We really worked hand-in-hand with Capcom. They were very receptive to that. They gave us the blueprints for the police station and for the mansion. We built to the exact specifications of the game. They gave us artwork, they gave us creatures, they gave us everything.
The characters were interesting, and it was a really rewarding experience. Capcom are very protective over their universe. For the characters, the important thing for me that I felt in making a successful game adaptation is that it can’t just be the game onscreen. Otherwise you might as well just play the game because the games are so good and so successful. So cinematic and scary. I felt the big thing with this, the thing that makes it work is the difference between cinema and gaming is the emotional engagement you get with living breathing human beings on the screen. The characters have their own emotions. In a computer game, you are that character, that character is doing what you say it should do. In cinema, you’re watching other people’s worlds and their decisions. I really needed the characters to be their own thing, to draw from the game but be more than the game. At times, you look at Kaya [Scodelario], you look at Robbie [Amell], they look very similar to the game, but they have their own dynamic, their own relationship that has moved on from the game.
And then with Avan [Jogia] as the Leon character and Hannah [John-Kamen] as Jill, they don’t look like their game counterparts. With Avan, that was the hardest role I had to cast, we must have seen everybody for that role for Leon. He’s how I got into the script and how I told that story was through his eyes. And I needed someone who was, to me, the ultimate Carpenter anti-hero. I’m so obsessed with John Carpenter movies. Leon is part Jack Burton, part Napoleon Wilson, part MacReady. I wanted all these attributes in a character. He brings humor, but he’s not the comedic sidekick. I had to find someone who could understand that and deliver that, and have the charisma to be more than an avatar. And Avan came in and read for it, and he very much does not look like the game counterpart, but I just thought “This is the guy. He’s who I want.”
It was very rewarding with Capcom in that any reluctance they might have had, when they watched that finished movie, they were so happy, and particularly, they really felt they could see with Leon’s character that he was just his own thing. He was a cinematic adaptation of the game. It’ just became exactly what we wanted to do, which was move on from the game, whilst telling a great origin story. So yeah, it’s a tricky thing, but it was fun with Capcom. Like I said, they were very protective, but once they could see the love of where this came from, they really could not have been more helpful. We even got a little tiny snippet of Code: Veronica in there, like the actual game in there. They’re geeks just like I am, and they were just having fun, giving me stuff to put on screen.
“It’s gory, but it’s also full of suspense and tension and jumps and scares. I don’t think the Resident Evil world has seen that in cinematic form, in the way we present it.” – Johannes Roberts
NOFS: When the pandemic first hit, I saw all these conspiracy theories circulating on the internet of a photo of a Chinese biological research lab whose logo was suspiciously similar to the Umbrella Corporation logo. That theory was obviously debunked, but it shows Resident Evil was very much present in the public’s mind. What are your feelings on releasing a zombie outbreak movie in the middle of a pandemic? How do you think people will react to it?
JR: If it were a pandemic movie, I can only speak for what I would want, but I’m not sure I desperately want to watch that. But with this, it’s a Stephen King movie, it’s a John Carpenter movie, it’s the computer games. Where I think this will connect with people is that it’s a fun scary ride. It’s properly ’90s at times. It’s all set in ’98. You got the cardigans, you got Jennifer Paige. It’s a very fun ride of a movie. I think it’s pretty relevant. It’s incredible how our reality merged with cinema. There’s definitely points that are like “Oh god, that’s a little bit close to the bone.” But I think it’s just a fun movie.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City hits theaters on November 24th. Are you fan of the games? Are you excited to go back to how it all started? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter. And for all the best horror content online, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.