by Jed Pressgrove
One of the most superficial claims about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is that it brings the Resident Evil series “back to its roots.” What this game, written by westerner Richard Pearsey, actually does is reuse anti-rural American horror cliches while sporting a “new perspective,” as if making a first-person title is revolutionary. With this in mind, Resident Evil 7 is most accurately described as a nostalgic survival-horror reboot for city snobs.
Set in rural Louisiana (again, not Resident Evil’s roots), Resident Evil 7 puts you in control of Ethan Winters scouring the home of a “hick family” (to quote condescending critic Simon Parkin) for his missing wife Mia. The proceedings get grotesque quickly: within an hour or so, you will be invited to eat maggot-ridden food and then chased around the house by drawling patriarch Jack Baker, a villain who recalls Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. With his own life on the line, Ethan must fight back with a standard array of weapons (knife, pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, etc.) that feel like a sentimental regression from the superior combat options of Resident Evil 4.
Although Pearsey eventually provides an extraordinary explanation as to why this rural place and family are so decrepit, his script borrows heavily from American films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and others that suggest rural people are backward. Pearsey’s co-opted vision reveals its contempt for country folk with ridiculous dialogue (“Welcome to the family, son.” and “Rise and shine, sleepyhead. It’s time for supper.”) and references to outdated items like VCRs (which doubles as a treat for nostalgia-obsessed nerds). The implication is that rural people already talk and live funny in their isolation, and when you mix this existing idiocy with nasty science fiction, you have what many critics and fans have called a return to scariness.
Only problem is you’d have to be oblivious to or willfully ignorant of the movies that Resident Evil 7 copies to find this garbage shocking. Even if Pearsey isn’t as snooty and resentful as his script suggests, you would think he, one of the writers of the deconstructionist Spec Ops: The Line, would be more aware of how unoriginal and cheap this horror story is. When you approach a refrigerator to read notes like “Male 20s Portly BBQ,” you have to wonder how anyone living in the Information Age could overlook the vicious repetitiveness of this rural cannibalism idea, which was also excused when it appeared in the second episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. That critics like Parkin would compare this slasher-film crap to Truman Capote’s multidimensional brilliance shows you how delusional a city snob can be.
Curiously, this same type of audience, supposedly progressive, has glossed over the racism and misogyny of Resident Evil 7. The deputy David Andersen is a textbook example of a token black character who is only there to die. And not only does he die, but Ethan, upon finding David’s corpse in a dissection room, quips “Poor deputy.” In one stroke, developer Capcom gets in its minimal diversity quota, and in another stroke, the company implies the black guy doesn’t matter anyway. In another scene, you fight Jack’s wife Marguerite. Here, Pearsey confirms his unexamined urban bias with Marguerite’s line “There’s no escape, city boy.” This dialogue comes at about the time you discover Marguerite’s weak point: her exposed, corrupted vagina. It’s a shameful way of degrading an already-savage rural caricature.
Pearsey does offer Zoe, Jack and Marguerite’s daughter, as a counterexample to her family’s inherent backwardness. Still, Zoe seems like more of a plot device compared to how writer/director Eli Craig uses the character of Allison to show a genuine connection between rural and non-rural people in the sociological masterpiece Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Craig’s film exposes Pearsey’s low standards for horror writing and raises legitimate points about how fear on both sides of the urban/rural divide results in destruction. Resident Evil 7 only offers longstanding stupidity to go along with its clunky action — a frightening combo for all the wrong reasons.