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Johannes Roberts Gets Back To Basics for “Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City”

Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Interviews

By ROCCO T. THOMPSON

In a radical departure from Paul W.S. Anderson’s massively successful film series, RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY returns to the beloved Capcom game franchise’s roots. Written and directed by superfan Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey at Night), the film brings the world of the original 1996 game and its sequel to life with a fresh cast, clever tone, and plenty of surprises.

From the logline: Once the booming home of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation, Raccoon City is now a dying Midwestern town. The company’s exodus left the city a wasteland…with great evil brewing below the surface. When that evil is unleashed, the townspeople are forever…changed…and a small group of survivors must work together to uncover the truth behind Umbrella and make it through the night. The film stars Kaya Scodelario as Claire Redfield, Robbie Amell as her brother, Chris, Avan Jogia as fan favorite Leon S. Kennedy, Tom Hopper as Albert Wesker and Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine. Donal Logue and Neal McDonough appear in supporting roles.

Rue Morgue caught up with Roberts to discuss his love for the game series, how he sought to put a fresh spin on your typical undead flesh-eater, and how he trusted his instincts in finding the right cast members to embody such well-loved and iconic characters.

RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY is very much its own thing, but I’m curious – where there any elements of the Anderson films that subtly or not so subtly influenced what you did here?

I love Paul’s work. I have always been a really big fan of what Paul and Jeremy Bolt, the producer, have done as an English producer/director team. They went over and they did their own thing and created something that Hollywood has never achieved, which is a hugely successful game franchise. My respect for that is enormous and I am in love with Milla Jovovich, so if she’s reading this…[Laughs]. That whole world was its own thing and that was great.

There’s not many opportunities you have in your life where you’re handed a franchise like this where it’s like you’re not rebooting the franchise, you’re actually just going somewhere completely different. We are going just to the games. Paul’s world was a completely different world and we were like, “Let’s go to the game, let’s go to the first and second game and really have fun with that.” So yeah, completely different orbits.

It is so true to the games but something that feels a bit different is the treatment of the infected. Can you tell us a bit about how you put your own spin on the typical Resident Evil zombies?

Yeah. The zombies. One of the trickiest aspects of this [project].  I remember when we did our first scene of the zombies. I came home and I said to my wife, “Fuck. I think I fucked this.” [Laughs] Because you suddenly realize, you have 50-60 years or more of zombie movies [and] history, coming at you. I’ve got Romero here. I’ve got Danny Boyle there. I’ve got Zack Snyder there, and all within this Resident Evil world.

So, I actually reshot a lot of the zombie stuff because I wanted to go back and really focus it. Throughout the shoot, I would go back in and do extra little bits [because] I really wanted them to be disturbing. I was really disturbed by the TV show Chernobyl and that became a really big benchmark for me in the way the radiation sickness goes across this small town. This is kind of the story we’re telling here and I want it to feel like a B-movie, [but also], I want it to feel real. Like this is just this dying Stephen King-style small town, and the zombies should reflect that. There’s a lot that’s super from the game but it’s also it is its own thing, which was really important.

The cast is fantastic and pleasantly more diverse than expected. Was it always your intention to cast “against type” or did it just sort of shake out that way?

No. We had these conversations and it’s an interesting thing that definitely has come up. I can’t wait for people to watch the movie. We had a very interesting conversation with Capcom, we worked so closely with them, and they love everything to be identical. They were very cautious and very protective over their world. [In this film], Leon couldn’t look less like Leon. I probably saw more people than I’ve ever seen in a casting process for his role, because it was so important that I got that mixture of humor and self-depreciation and kind of weariness into this character because it was how I saw the movie, through his eyes, when I was writing it. When Avan read and he just blew it out of the water and I was like, “Look, I want this guy.” And [that] was really interesting because Capcom were quite nervous. They got Kaya as Claire, and they got Chris as Redfield. And then [with Avan], it was like, “How’s that working?”

Then they watched the movie and they were so excited about [him]. The thing that I told the cast is, “Look: the one thing I want you to do, whatever you do, however you prepare for this, is fall in love with the game. Believe it, love it, treat it as if what we’re adapting is a novel. I want you to hold it true to your heart and understand that it’s true to my heart. So, when we film this, it’s important to you. And then it’ll feel so close to the game but you won’t have to be, like, identical, because you’ll be your own thing.” And I think that’s what’s really come across. When you watch the movie, it comes from the games but it’s its own thing. These characters are living, breathing characters.

RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY will be released exclusively in theaters on November 24th, 2021 from Sony Pictures.

Rocco T. Thompson
Rue Morgue's Online Managing Editor, Rocco is a Rondo-nominated film journalist and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous. He penned the cover story for Rue Morgue's landmark July/Aug 2019 "Queer Fear" Special Issue, and is an associate producer on In Search of Darkness: Part III, the latest installment in CreatorVC's popular 1980s horror documentary series.