Resident Evil director kicks off a new age of horror for franchise: 'Let's make a scary movie again'
Johannes Roberts still can't get his hands on a Playstation 5. And at this rate, he might have to wait longer, which is a little perplexing. He's the director of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a movie based on a popular video game franchise, for Sony, whose game division owns Playstation. One would think he'd be one of the first in line. Still, he's holding out hope he can get one to play the latest Resident Evil game release, Village.
"Maybe you could put that in your article," he tells EW with a laugh. "Poor director is desperate. I will walk off any future sequels."
Roberts is a big gamer, if that wasn't obvious already by the way he talks about video games or the way Welcome to Raccoon City looks. While the past Resident Evil films, starring Milla Jovovich, collectively hit the billion-dollar mark at the box office, "they were never really about the games," Roberts says. He's changing that with his film, out in theaters Nov. 24.
"I'm a horror guy. I'm a Stephen King guy. I'm a John Carpenter guy. All those things are sort of built into the fabric of this movie," he explains. "I was just like, 'Let's make a scary movie again.'"
Welcome to Raccoon City marks the start of a new era for Resident Evil on screen, one that also includes a separate live-action Netflix series. Instead of the action-heavy spectacle that was the earlier films, directed largely by Paul W. S. Anderson, this new turn seeks to more closely adapt elements from the games, including the innate horror of it all.
Constantin Film, the production company behind the Resident Evil movies, enlisted Roberts without the filmmaker knowing precisely what they were doing. He and the producers just vibed. They had the same "filmic references" and "bizarre sense of humor," Roberts recalls.
"They had some materials that they were looking at, but they didn't really know what they were going to do." One thing they did know: "This needs to be a whole different beast" than the past iterations, he notes.
It wasn't until Capcom, the videogame publisher behind the Resident Evil franchise, decided to remake the original games that the filmmaker found his launching pad. The brand debuted the Resident Evil 2 remake in 2019 with a fresh look for the dueling narratives of college student Claire Redfield and rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy one horrifying night in Raccoon City.
"I remember playing that second game and going, 'This is the movie. This is it,'" Roberts says. "It just blew me away completely. The aesthetics of it, the tone, the mood. I was like, 'This is the cornerstone of what we're going to do.'"
Welcome to Raccoon City envisions the titular town, once the booming hub for the shady Umbrella Corporation, as a dying Midwestern community. It's only when Claire (The Maze Runner's Kaya Scodelario) arrives in search of her brother, Chris (Code 8's Robbie Amell), that the evil brewing in secret facilities unleashes on the residents: The T-virus, a biological weapon brewed by Umbrella, is turning people into zombie-like monstrosities. Claire, Chris, Leon (Now Apocalypse's Avan Jogia), and other game characters like Jill Valentine (Ant-Man and the Wasp's Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Umbrella Academy's Tom Hopper) are now all about surviving the night and trying to get the hell out of Raccoon City.
Roberts brought in aspects of the games to the film, including "the fixed camera angle language" and characters like the mutated Lisa Trevor (shown in EW's exclusive clip above). But he also pulled from cinematic inspirations: the "small dying town" aesthetic of the 2019 Mark Ruffalo film Dark Waters, HBO's Chernobyl, and "'70s conspiracy theory movies."
The filmmaker confirms Welcome to Raccoon City and the Netflix Resident Evil series are "two very separate things," adding, "Bar the name, there really isn't any crossover there." Both projects were greenlit around the same time. And while Roberts hasn't read the show's scripts, he knows the producers at Constantin well and they are also involved with the serialized treatment.
"It's a very different sci-fi Netflix beast, whereas this [film] is retro horror, Stephen King-style," he says. "And this is super, super faithful to the games, whereas the Netflix show is its own beast, from what I understand."
Netflix also premiered a CG-animated Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness series on the streaming platform earlier this year. There have never been so many Resident Evil adaptations popping up in the same relative period. While the box office will ultimately determine what the future will hold for this new start to the movie side of the franchise, Roberts is hopeful — and he has some ideas for sequels.
"I think [Welcome to Raccoon City] sets everything up really well, an origin story for each of our characters," he remarks. "I think it would be really important to me that we don't just use this as a springboard to then just go off into our own crazy world. I think there's so much in the games that is so fascinating and exciting that I would really love to continue to explore that."
He specifically mentions Resident Evil 4, what he calls "such an amazing and groundbreaking game," but also Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. And, who knows, maybe Roberts will even adapt this year's Resident Evil Village. "I would love to," he says. That is, if he can get a Playstation 5 to play it first. Your move, Sony.
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