Returning to the origins of the massively popular Resident Evil franchise, filmmaker Johannes Roberts today reintroduces the universe for a whole new generation of fans in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.
Originally adapted into film by writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002’s Resident Evil was a massive box office hit. Starring Anderson’s former supermodel wife Milla Jovovich, the film spawned five sequels before the couple laid the franchise to rest with 2016’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
While the series featured several characters from the game, the six films were always very loose adaptations.
Picking up the reins for a fresh take on the franchise, writer-director Roberts recalls the landmark Resident Evil video game, declaring, “25 years ago, I walked the dread-filled corridors of the Spencer mansion, then experienced the rain-soaked night surrounding the Raccoon police station.”
With his new film, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, he draws on that early passion. “I come from that generation of the first PlayStation gamers who grew up with the game. I’ve always been a horror freak, so watching other people play it, almost like a movie, was a big part of my student years; the specific sounds the zombies made are indelibly seared onto my soul.
“Over the last ten years, I’ve become a big gamer, obsessed with Resident Evil. The remake of the second game became a major turning point for me in just how cinematic these games have become,” says the British filmmaker behind shark thrillers 47 Meters Down and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.
Understanding that nobody could replace Jovovich’s iconic character of Alice, Constantin Film co-president Robert Kulzer saw a way to reboot the franchise by revisiting the game’s roots.
“The idea was to look at the mythology of the games and go deeper into the events of what happened in them,” he says. “We’d never really done a deep dive into what happened in Raccoon City in 1998, and why the Umbrella Corporation picked it as the place to do these experiments.”
All the main characters of the early Resident Evil games – Chris and Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, Leon S. Kennedy, Albert Wesker, Chief Brian Irons of the Raccoon City Police Department, Lisa Trevor, and Umbrella scientist William Birkin – would come together at this pivotal moment in Raccoon’s history, as Umbrella plans to level Raccoon City to cover up its sinister deeds.
This new spin would rule out the daunting prospect of replacing Jovovich although the filmmakers wished to repeat magic by introducing a new heroine, casting Brazilian-British actress Kaya Scodelario as the street-smart, kick-ass protagonist, Claire Redfield.
Having already proven she could hold her own alongside the boys as Teresa in the Maze Runner sci-fi action trilogy, Roberts was confident she would be more than a match for the film’s tough guy team featuring Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough, as well as Hannah John-Kamen’s Jill Valentine.
Chatting with Scodelario, she says she would never even pretend to emulate Jovovich’s original role.
“She’s definitely inspirational especially when you take into account the amount of times she’s played that character and how she managed to keep physically in shape enough to film those movies – and have a family. She’s a huge inspiration for me personally.
“I watched the Resident Evil movies as a teenager. I loved them because they were so of their time with the soundtrack and the colours and the costumes. Everything was very millennium and futuristic and cool.”
Just 14 when she won her first break in seminal Brit TV series Skins, she had little time for video games back then, her mum refusing to let her play Resident Evil.
“But I’ve had chance to play it now and I’m amazed at how detailed they are and their quality, so it helped me see how easy it would be to translate that onto the big screen because there is a narrative and a journey already built in,” says the actress whose other films include Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Crawl.
Despite her action pedigree, she had rarely held a gun before Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.
“I learned practically everything on this movie. We had an amazing armourer who taught me how to handle all the weapons, which is such an important part of the games and also an important part of her, especially Claire’s iconic shotgun. I wanted to make sure I looked really natural, moving around with it and also so I could just physically hold it for 12 hours a day for three months. I had the best arm muscles that I’ve ever had – which are all gone now because of lockdown!”
Admittedly, she is not as fearless in real life as Claire Redfield. “I’m quite a nervous and jumpy person so I don’t do well in the cinema with horror movies. I got kicked out of watching The Village because I screamed so loudly and I was removed from the cinema – and it wasn’t even that scary. So I personally wouldn’t do very well in a zombie apocalypse.”
• Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City opens in cinemas on December 9