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Director Johannes Roberts Talks Making Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City

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After the first Resident Evil film series grossed more than $ 1 billion in box office revenue, production company Constantine Films is set to reboot its biggest film franchise. But where the original series deviated significantly from the source material, new director Johannes Roberts – known for his work on 47 meters lower and Aliens: prey at night – wants to honor Capcom’s original games with its new film, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. We caught up with Roberts to ask him how it went to bring the first two games to life.

Game Informer: What is your relationship with the Resident Evil series?

Johannes Roberts: I kind of entered the game franchise as an observer rather than a player. The game was so huge. It really was the first time you had something cinematic and scary. I’ve always been a horror fool and [a] horror cinema nut. It was so funny to see this thing that was so totally in love with the same things that I was in love with. I used to watch people play it [laughs]. I would just be obsessed with it. The techniques, the horror techniques that they were using, it was so scary.

IG: The reason I’m asking the question, those early games, camera angles were born out of technical limitations, but they were very cinematic. You’ve made several horror movies at this point. Would you say there was a specific influence on your Resident Evil movies?

JR: Two things have kind of crossed my career causing horror. First, it is about going through the doors. I made a movie called Outside the door. That “What’s on the other side of the door?” Sort of thing. And you opened that door, and you wouldn’t know what you were going to get yourself into. [Resident Evil games] really sort of played heavily on it – and obviously because of technical limitations, as everything should load into the next beat. But it really created a suspense there. And then also this thing that we certainly used in the movie, but that I certainly used a lot anyway, is it this thing of characters coming out of the screen and not following them? [laughs]. It’s a really weird thing. I obviously went back and played these games when I started rebooting this movie, and it’s so weird – now we’re in a world where you’re the character, and you’re moving through the character and all. To have this weird thing where you just disappear off the screen, and you don’t really know what’s going on around the corner, it’s such a weird thing and actually quite scary.

IG: Can you talk about the collaboration between cinematographer Maxime Alexandre and yourself in directing shots that are both a tribute to games and their adaptation for something that works in live-action?

JR: What we did, what we borrowed a lot from games, was a lot in terms of places and looks. I took a lot of inspiration from the world of John Carpenter. It’s very retro. So there are a lot of zooms, a lot of long shots. It really has a 70s feel. I used movies like The parallax view, The invasions of the body robbers, Don’t look now, Jewel. I like the cinematography in Jewel. We would use a lot of these cornerstones of 70s cinema – The Exorcist and stuff – and use it as my language to work within the game franchise.

IG: I can certainly say that I haven’t heard anyone speak Don’t look now when we talk about their video game adaptation.

JR: [laughs] Yes yeah. We’re only at that stage of finishing the movie now, and we’re getting into the color timing of it all. It’s really fun, the idea of ​​bringing out those really vibrant reds like you would in a Dario Argento movie or something like Don’t look now, which has that kind of red theme running through it. I am very influenced by the cinema of the 70s, and in this film in particular because it felt like sort of a 70s conspiracy thriller in some of the themes we were using.

IG: Especially in these early Resident Evil games, I feel like people are forgetting about eco-terror and abuse of power messages. These are weirdly political games of how awkward they can be. When you were writing it, especially considering where we are in 2021, were you thinking about these themes?

JR: We all had very different cinematic tastes, but we had some key elements that kind of brought us together. One of the great things was the love of [the] 70s conspiracy thriller that is really at the heart of this movie. There are some really good movies that have come out [around] the weather. Chernobyl, the TV series, I remember watching it, and we all walked into the office, and we were just talking about how amazingly good it was – the storytelling, the themes, the cover-up. How scary it was to be so normal and just the terrifying nature of what happens to people with radiation sickness. So, we were talking a lot about this kind of cover-up and all the themes that Resident Evil was built on. We would watch movies like Dark water, the Mark Ruffalo movie, and just look at things that were going on in America, like the Flint water crisis and all that stuff.

IG: How did the adaptation of some of these locations go for a live action movie?

What I thought hadn’t really been done prior to the in-game adaptations is treating the source material with the respect you would treat a novel. And that was my real guiding principle. You know, we tell our own story, but treat this world with real respect and work within the lore, places, and world of Resident Evil, the games. So we went to Capcom, and we got plans – like architectural plans – of the mansion, the police station. So the construction of these things is the same as the game. It was amazing to walk around these settings and say, “I’m fucking in the mansion now. I’m actually walking around this game I’m playing. since 25 years [laughs]. “It was so cool. And then having fun taking footage and doing it for the first time on [film], like the iconic flip zombie from the first game, the first time you see the zombie. You know, it’s like that big moment that had really never been done before in computer games. Putting that on screen was right – I remember one of the producers came up to me and just said they had chills down their spines because it’s so cool to do that.

IG: What do you think is the most difficult in making this film?

You know what? The biggest challenge and, I guess I was scared the most while doing this, was the zombie aspect – and I never really realized that until we besieged the police station. The movie is heavily influenced by Assault on Precinct 13 and uses it a lot as a touchstone to tell the story. We have this big seat at the police station. Suddenly I was standing there, and the zombies all arrived, and suddenly you realize that you have the weight of 60 years of zombie movies on you. You got to do this shit right, and you got to bring something fresh, and you got to scare again. When people saw zombies – you know, they found them scary, then they didn’t find them scary anymore, they became part of the comedy. They have become everything. It was really difficult to be able to create a story that had a dramatic theme and that was grounded to a certain extent. I mean, it’s heavily influenced by John Carpenter, so it has its own world. But in this world, you had to be believable in the reality of this world and scare people again and really make them fear the zombies and all the armada of creatures that we let loose. So, it was very scary. I remember that day very well. I remember feeling like, “Oh my God, if I screw this up I’m in real trouble. People are going to kill me.” The weight of this was enormous. It was huge.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is in theaters now

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