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'Resident Evil’ director Johannes Roberts wants you to be 'scared sh**less'

Here's how the director took a page from John Carpenter for this reboot.

By Brian Silliman

The Resident Evil games scare most players, and the new movie based on the game series has the same intention. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is obviously not going for slapstick, it wants to frighten you as much as possible.

Director Johannes Roberts makes that very clear from the opening shots of the movie, and maintains that sense of dread and fear all the way through the gory film. He is reimagining the Resident Evil film series completely; the new movie has nothing to do with the lengthy film series that came before it. Unlike previous movies, this Resident Evil is very much based on the games that began everything. Roberts has melded the first two games together, kept them in the 1990’s, and gone to town. 

SYFY WIRE caught up with Roberts recently to discuss how he went about adapting the games, what feelings he wanted to evoke, the ’90’s, and more. 

What was the most important thing that you wanted to preserve from the games?

Atmosphere. I wanted to be scared s***less, because I was when playing the games. I really wanted to lean into that. I was playing very much when we were doing this, I was playing the second game, the reboot, and I really wanted that rain-drenched atmosphere. Terrifying, dread-filled atmosphere.

Is that why you put the house and the city in one movie, so you get both of those atmospheres in one experience?

Exactly. I loved the mansion. I grew up as a student playing the first game and the mansion is such an iconic location. I was just obsessed with the police station in the reboot of the second game, and just felt that they would really work in this single narrative that just this dying rotten town and combined it all together.

Why was the setting in terms of the year it takes place important?

We were having so much fun with going back to the original game and so it just felt like it was like a really great time to explore the ‘90s, to go back to the game, to go back to that period of time where analog and digital were crossing over. Analog was dying, digital is coming in, and it's weird. This town is this dying town that's been forgotten about, and it's a fascinating moment in our history. It felt like a really rich texture to set the movie against it, a backdrop. And it enabled me to have Jennifer Page singing "Crush," so that was important for me.

Well, it also reminded me that the Palm Pilot used to be a thing.

Yeah. Didn't they? Yeah.

If these movies continue, do you think the story will follow the games', or would you take the movies in another direction? 

I'd like to, yeah. Personally, I think it would be great. We have great fun embracing the games, and I would love that to be something that we did for a future installment. I would love to go to Code: Veronica or to go to Resident Evil 4, and look at elements. I don't think it's quite as clear cut as what we did with 1 and 2. Maybe we look at Resident Evil 3. I'm not sure.

It's just speculative at the moment. The way we approached adapting this game was to treat the material like it were a novel. That it was as important as adapting any book. And we took it very, very seriously and I would love to carry on doing that, make it feel like it really comes from the love of the games.

Was there something that you really wanted to include but had to cut?

I would've loved to have the Tyrant in there, I just didn't quite know how to put that in. Being a shark guy, an underwater guy, I would've loved to put a zombie shark in there as well. It was hard totally to balance some of the slightly larger, and I don't mean this in scale-wise, but slightly more fantastical. Not even that, it's not more fantastical. I felt in this world you could believe the licker, but a big guy in a trench coat with a hat walking around, I felt he didn't belong in this movie, whereas he's terrifying in the game. I just didn't feel it quite sort of sat right. So, yeah, I would've loved to have him in, but maybe in future installments.

This is obviously a movie all about contagions, it was shot during a pandemic, and it is being released during a pandemic. What's the biggest thing that you hope audiences take away from it?

Honestly, I hope they get scared s***less and have a blast with this. I think it's very timely and I think it taps into lot of things that are happening, particularly in America at the moment. But really, what I would like... I made a John Carpenter movie. That's what I was trying to make, and I really want people to sit there and enjoy being scared and having fun in this kind of weirdly Stephen King world, this really loving adaptation of a game. And yeah, just have a blast. I hope. I really hope they do.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City comes to cinemas on November 24th. 

This interview was edited for clarity.