There's been a lot of talk recently about how Capcom decided to tone down the horror aspect of Resident Evil Village, in favour of a more action-oriented approach. According to the developer, fans thought Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was too scary, and they wanted to make the game more accessible to the masses.
Before we go any further, you have actually played Resident Evil Village to completion at least once, haven't you? Oh, you have? Well then benvenuto to you, my friend, pull up a chair so we may talk. Those who have finished the campaign will likely be left exhilarated by the breakneck action the game pours on in the final hours, but to my mind, there's one section that will outlive the game, as one of the scariest in Resident Evil history. House Beneviento.
As luck would have it, you can watch that entire section of the game right here. Refresh your memory like a fat dab of acid refreshes a fever dream. Spoilers, obviously, for anyone who's not played Resident Evil Village.
I wasn't allowed to mention House Beneviento during my review of Resident Evil Village - Capcom stipulated as such, and I can fully understand why. The area goes completely against the flow of the rest of the game, and was like being uppercutted by your favourite uncle on your 12th birthday. Was he drunk? Was this always his plan? Did you probably deserve it for being a little gobshite? Probably. But it was so out of context, that it left a very real imprint on my overall thoughts a few hours into my first playthrough.
Assuming you've either played the game or watched the clip above, you'll know that I'm talking about the moment you meet Baby. In the game's concept art, Baby is described as being a two- or three-minute-old girl, who appears as a giant, bloody fetus with bulging eyes and a gaping, cavernous maw instead of a mouth.
She's the result of protagonist Ethan Winters' hallucinations brought on by inhaling megamycete-infected plant spores, which the ghostly puppeteer Donna Beneviento uses on her victims. If that's not the most Resident Evil explanation for an enemy, I don't know what is.
Aside from the pure panic of having Baby poke her head around a corner in the pitch black and pursuing you back down the hallway from whence you came, it's the setup which is executed to perfection. You're shown almost the full area on your arrival in House Beneviento's basement, and deem it to be suitably safe. The series of puzzles that revolve around a creepy dummy of Mia spread across a table top are more than mere busywork. They are a prelude that builds suspense to the grand finale - you know something is coming, but you don't know what.
Things really start to take a turn for the worst then you acquire the film strip for the projector, showing you an eerie destination down a crooked flight of stairs, and an abyss masquerading as an underground well. The fake-out of this well descent is inspired. It suckers the player into a fear vortex. Going down the stairs into the sub-basement is a study in insecurity. Every fibre of your being is screaming at you that there is something down here with you in the dark. That ominously rocking cradle is up to something, and it's very likely not something good. Climbing down the well's ladder feels like descending into the very pits of hell. But there's nothing at the bottom apart from a key you need to get out. What does that mean? Unfortunately, it means the bad times are here. When something in a horror game feels too good to be true, often it is. At the top of the ladder is our first audible introduction to Baby. A loud bang and an infant wailing accompany the ascent, where the crib lies broken. Nope.jpg failed to open.
With the way out open, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a straight shot to the exit - but this is where the true macabre beauty of the scene is manifest. The dummy is gone. Why has the dummy gone? Why is the room now painted red? Why is there an umbilical cord trailing out of the room, leading you toward your final destination?
In true survival-horror style, Ethan has also been completely stripped of his weapons, meaning that when Baby does come lurching down the corridor, filling the entire space and leaving you no choice but to backpedal, you have no means with which to defend yourself. It's more than just a little reminiscent of P.T. (there's even a ghostly vision of Mia that pops up from time to time) and the cat-and-mouse dynamic that plays out through the rest of the level left my heart pumping in my ears for minutes afterward. I had to pause the game just to collect my thoughts.
While I did love House Beneviento in a weird, masochistic kind of way, I'm also glad that the game didn't lean too heavily into this style of horror, in hindsight. It would have been utterly exhausting. As much as I love slow-burn psychological movies like Hereditary, they feel best appreciated in that two- to three-hour window and not spread out over the course of a 10- to 12-hour game.
The rest of Resident Evil Village isn't nearly as scary as the old Beneviento place, but it lives rent free in my mind now, ad infinitum. It wasn't until my second playthrough that I actually felt brave enough to get close to Baby for her to insta-kill eat me, which is another experience entirely. What I'd love to try next (see also: absolutely detest) is the game in VR, though there's every chance I wouldn't make it out of the other side alive. At least it'll be an interesting story at my funeral. Mark died the way he lived: being shoveled feet first into the mandible void of an eldritch abomination. Ashes to ashes.
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