Like the zombie-making virus which is the true game engine of this long-running franchise, the world of Resident Evil keeps evolving, respawning and regenerating extra mutant limbs and organs in different media. First there was the influential shooting-centric computer game from Japan; that begat half a dozen blood-and-VFX feature films from married star-and-director team Milla Jovovich and Paul WS Anderson. Then followed television series, novels, comics, stage productions and even a Resident Evil-themed restaurant.
Even if you haven’t played, watched, read or even eaten any Resident Evil product that shouldn’t significantly impair anyone’s ability to at least mildly enjoy and get up to speed with this latest iteration: a reboot story set in the late 1990s in the fictional town, the titular Raccoon City, where the zombie virus first emerges as a threat to humanity. Although gravely disappointed to report there are no raccoons whatsoever on hand, I can reveal that this is a reasonably entertaining, unpretentiously gory horror exercise, although clearly a bit distended with an excess of characters that need to be incorporated into the plot, many of whom feature in older RE lore.
The most prominent is Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), a badass tough girl who comes back to the town where she was raised in a dodgy orphanage to see her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) who is now a Raccoon City police officer. Claire also wants to investigate reports she’s seen in so-called “chat rooms” on the “internet” (remember, it’s meant to be the 1990s and all that stuff is new) of shady goings-on connected to the pharmaceutical company Umbrella. Eventually, Claire and Chris find themselves battling drooling pasty undead hordes alongside fellow cops Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), conflicts seen mostly from a third-person perspective, although there are occasional deployments of first-person viewpoints, a mix that creates a particularly game-y feel.
The competence of the action sequences compensates somewhat for the underlying lack of wit or humour throughout, unless you count the smile-inducing call backs to ancient 90s technology. One character, for instance, is spied playing the game Snake on a Nokia phone; elsewhere a key bit of info is related from a videotape. It all serves to remind us that the Hollywood studio Sony, who also own the PlayStation game platform that made Resident Evil famous, was originally a tech company before they expanded into entertainment.