The upcoming Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City movie tells the original story of Capcom’s games. Written and directed by Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey at Night), this film is based on the first two Resident Evil games. The film tells how Raccoon City, from an industrial town to a dying town in the Midwest, became the starting point of the T virus epidemic.
In an exclusive email interview with IGN, Roberts explained the differences between his movie Resident Evil and the previous Screen Gems series of films, starring Milla Jovovich and produced by Paul W.S. Anderson. He explained how his vision for the film is inspired not only by Capcom games, but also genre films from the John Carpenter era.
IGN: Resident Evil is one of the most commercially successful film video game franchises. Why reboot it instead of chasing it?
Johannes Roberts: Actually, I really like the first film. I find it awesome. And Milla has created such an iconic character. But it was a separate movie. It wasn’t really Resident Evil as I knew it. The previous films never reproduced the game and the sensations I felt playing it (this is not a review, I think they just took a different direction). I wanted to go back to the horror. I wanted scares and atmosphere rather than straightforward action. I think the fans of the game felt the same – they wanted to see the iconic characters and locations and feel that the movie was more in line with the Resident Evil game universe, which is why we chose that direction. We worked hand in hand with Capcom on this movie … so much so that we got the blueprints of the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon Police Station from them to recreate them as perfectly as possible. We even have the same designs on the walls of the mansion. Capcom saw it for the first time the other day and was so happy and excited. And that, as a nerd, that made me happy!
How do these adaptations of characters like Jill Valentine and Leon S. Kennedy differ from their versions in previous films?
Johannes Roberts: The difference with this film, compared to previous films, is that it is a group where each of the main characters has a great importance for the narrative. It’s not just about cosplay characters who have the same hair and costumes as the characters. I think it used to be that it all revolved around the character of Alice (who was never in the games) and the in-game characters that appeared, like Jill, Leon, Claire, and Chris, were kind of cameos. In this film, Jill and Leon are the main characters along with Claire, Chris and Wesker.
Jill was a really fun character to play with, kind of a energized little town girl, she’s very strong, but not in a superhuman way. We are really afraid for her when the going gets tough. Hannah John-Kamen really brought it to life! Leon Kennedy was interesting because in many ways he was the one who got me into the film as a writer; I kind of saw the story through his eyes. I wanted to get away from the muscular action hero Leon has become in the last few games and go back to the Leon Kennedy of his very first appearance as a “rookie” in Resident Evil 2. In this film, he is not due. quite an action hero: he’s a bit overwhelmed, groggy and can’t believe everything that happens on his first day. The events of the film help to create the “hero” Leon they know from the games.
There is definitely a Carpenter vibe in his character. When I wrote it, I had in mind a kind of cross between Jack Burton and MacReady! It was probably the hardest role to hand out to find someone who could wear it! Avan Jogia has really succeeded. He’s so wonderfully offbeat and out of his mind in the movie.
IGN: Can you define what your visual aesthetic was for this movie in terms of how it differed from what audiences saw in previous Resident Evil movies?
Johannes Roberts: This movie really had nothing to do with the previous franchise. It was about going back to games and making a movie that was much more of a horror movie than the action / sci-fi genre of the previous films. I was very influenced, especially by the remake of the second game, and I really wanted to capture the atmosphere and the tone it had. It was so cinematic. The previous films were very bright and shiny while this one is dark and spooky, shot entirely at night. It rains constantly and the city is shrouded in mist.
I was very influenced by the cinematographic techniques of the 70s; we shot a lot with zooms! And there aren’t any drone shots in the movie or CGI camera shots that are physically impossible. The film has a very old-school retro feel. I’ve been hugely influenced by films like The Exorcist (and The Exorcist 3!), Don’t Look Now and The Shining. You can really feel the texture in this movie. Nothing in this city is hi-tech. One has the impression that it is dilapidated. I wanted Raccoon City to look a bit like Deer Hunter Town, a ghost town forgotten by the rest of the world. And the whole structure of the movie was heavily influenced by Assault on Precinct 13.
IGN: How is the design of the creatures and characters in your movie different from what fans of pre-existing games and movies know?
Johannes Roberts: We always came back to the game when we looked at the characters, creatures and places; that’s what guided us. As I said before, we worked very closely with Capcom. Every character and creature comes from the game and as such I wanted to be as faithful as possible. I wanted to create a real sense of immersion for the fans. But that’s also what turned out to be the most difficult in adapting intellectual property like this, because I didn’t want to just bring the game to the screen: it had to be a work in its own right, with characters and living creatures (and of course zombies!) who are faithful to the world. There is some cool stuff in there. I mean some creatures are really amazing. It’s a mix of prosthetics, computer graphics and creature performances. There are some wonderfully scary things about it. You’ll recognize the creatures in the game right away, but I hope we’ve gone beyond the game by making these terrifying creations feel like they could exist in real life.
IGN: Can you tell us about the casting of the roles of Leo and Jill and what you wanted to get out of them?
Johannes Roberts: It was extremely important, throughout the casting process, to find people who embodied the spirit and energy of the characters that I wanted to embody. I think a lot of times in game adaptations one of the big flaws is just doing a cast to visually resemble the characters; giving them the same hairstyle and clothes, but without really trying to give audiences what a movie does better than a game, which is to create a three-dimensional character that you can really relate to and believe in. . As I said before, one of the pitfalls of game adaptations is making it feel like a giant cosplay version of the game.
Our cast is obviously a lot more diverse than the original games, but I wanted to resist the trap of doing a casting because someone just happens to look like their character identically. In fact, we had a lot of actors who came in and visually recreated themselves perfectly as the character they were playing. It was sometimes disturbing! But that wasn’t what I needed for this story. With Jill, I knew Hannah from Ready Player One and that show she was playing in at the time, The Stranger, and I knew she would be perfect. Leon was much more difficult. We must have seen so many people; it was really a delicate role because of the balance between humor and seriousness. Then Avan did a read and I thought it was the right one! He understood everything.
IGN: What was your general design philosophy for differentiating the creatures in this movie from existing movies and games?
Johannes Roberts: To be honest, there’s a lot that hasn’t been seen in a previous movie, which is great. And even the things that we have already seen; I won’t reveal them, but there are some iconic creatures that fans will be excited to see. We really did everything to make them characters. We really focus on every creature, whether it’s a zombie, a crow, a doberman or … I won’t reveal the rest, I won’t reveal the rest … but they are never huge wide shots of faceless hordes; it’s about details. It’s about connecting with that individual creature at that time. Make us feel like it’s a living being breathing. To feel the disbelief of our characters in the face of what is happening.
John Carpenter is the master in the matter. Watch The Thing: every moment of the creature is treated as a work of art. You can marvel at all its superb. There are never hundreds of things thrown in your face. There is real personality and life in every part of the creature. And the reactions of the characters are so honest and real. And then the fear is very real. This is what I had in mind when I shot Resident Evil, especially when I recreated moments like the zombie flip in-game, as well as when things get REALLY crazy towards the end: I really invite the public to revel in the creations that we have put on the screen. I can’t wait for people to see them in all their glory!
IGN: How much of Lisa Trevor’s story comes into play in this movie? And how important is it to include it here? In this film ?
Johannes Roberts: Lisa Trevor actually plays a central role in the film. I was always fascinated by her when I played the remake of the first game. I found her character both disturbing and strangely fascinating. When we discussed how to bring this story to life, that was one of the things I really wanted to bring out, as it never appeared in any of the filmed versions of Resident Evil. I wanted her to be a three-dimensional character, not just a creepy specter. We brought in Marina Mazepa, who had just played Malignant for James Wan, and who worked hard to bring this character to life in a way that fans are going to love, I think. It is terrifying but also tragic. In the movie, we really tie her back to the Claire Redfield story, starting with the orphanage where Claire grew up.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City hits theaters on November 24, 2021 in France.
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