Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was a game-changer for the beloved horror franchise in so many ways.
Resident Evil, the famed game series that placed different protagonists against the government and corporate corruption responsible for infecting millions with a virus that turned them into horribly mutated zombies and monsters, felt as though it had run the gamut on horror scenarios to explore for each game. A series that started as a moderately self-contained zombie survival story branched into a gauntlet of games that built up an extensive lore on an international scale.
From the likes of Chris Redfield and Jill “Sandwich” Valentine to Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, and Jake Muller, Resident Evil spanned entire countries beyond the original mansion to the point of dancing with excess. The consistent tone of large-scale conspiracy was beginning to show its age in creativity, despite the games still selling well. Financial success could not distract from a franchise that was so far removed from its initial tone that it became a stretch to even label them as horror.
So in 2017, the franchise made the risky decision to return to the basics with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a first-person survival horror story bearing next-to-no resemblance to the last three mainline games of the series. Taking more inspiration from the Sam Raimi classic, Evil Dead, Biohazard mostly distances itself from the wild global threat of zombies and mutations to focus on a specific set of people plagued by a mysterious and deadly mold. It’s a type of mold that is able to cause its infected victims to undergo serious behavior shifts while granting them ultra-regenerative abilities.
Similar to Las Plagas from Resident Evil 4, the mold leaves its victims heavily vulnerable to manipulation as it ravages through the body like a strange and powerful drug exerting its influence over the victims’ entire being. Ethan Winters, the main protagonist of Biohazard, is unaware of any of this as he heads to Dulvey, Louisiana to find his missing wife Mia and comes across a seemingly abandoned plantation that is now fully enveloped in this dangerous mold. Ethan’s new mission is to make it through the night in one piece, though he soon realizes that he’s in fact not alone on the plantation.
Because he is invading the property of the Baker family.
Three years prior, the Bakers would’ve been described as something of an average family. The patriarch Jack Baker was married to his loving wife Marguerite, with whom he had two children: a daughter named Zoe and a son named Lucas. Excluding some unusual rumors regarding Lucas, the Bakers were not the types to raise suspicion among the locals with their actions. Before October of 2014, the Bakers’ home life was not exactly a perfect and ideal world, but it still felt comparatively normal to life after the arrival of a mysterious young girl and her apparent guardian caught in a shipwreck close to their home.
Afterwards, the Bakers began to withdraw from public life without any explanation. Marguerite would make a visit to the doctor, who warned her to check up on the mold that was festering in her head, but the Bakers would soon vanish altogether. After some concern from the locals, they were gradually forgotten about as the Bakers were considered dead by the community. The Bakers wouldn’t be the only disappearances though, as reports of vanishings near the Baker plantation would spike within the next three years before Ethan’s arrival.
So playing as Ethan, you the player are forced to battle your way through the Bakers, who in actuality are alive, though not particularly well. The mold mentioned earlier has overtaken their previously lush family home, transforming the estate into a decrepit shell of its former self. The Bakers would undergo a similar transformation as a small inspection of the home reveals that they have now become cannibals, confirming the fate of the missing people near the estate. Worst of all is despite Ethan’s efforts, they can never seem to die in spite of their grave wounds.
Though the atmosphere of the story harkens back to the survival horror roots of the first Resident Evil with the zombie-infested mansion, Biohazard separates itself from practically everything that the series was known for. Yes, the running theme of infection is present here, but there is a level of uncomfortable intimacy with Ethan’s battle against the Bakers. For the majority of the runtime, it feels more like a video game adaptation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over another version of a government conspiracy action-thriller and the Bakers are the key to Biohazard’s unique formula.
Differing from villains like Albert Wesker and Lord Saddler, there’s a real family dynamic to the Bakers that bleeds through in Biohazard. From the introduction of the whole family (minus Zoe) at the dinner table, we witness a small slice of a “traditional” family dinner for the infected family. Human remains laid out on the table, everyone is teetering between controlled and primal, like Marguerite trying her best to be “civil” by offering you a bite of their meal before Lucas chucks a plate at you for a laugh.
Even before Jack reprimands his son by slicing his arm off, you get the sense that a semblance of their former selves keeps popping in and out even three years after the initial infection. Everybody’s seated at the table as if it’s a normal dinner and their anger only seeps out when Ethan refuses their meal and the reactions don’t feel artificially uniform. Marguerite loses her cool, Jack carves Ethan’s face in retaliation, and Lucas is antsy about seeing Ethan get tortured by the whole ordeal.
Unlike previous games that saw the player mow down dozens of monsters in relation to a giant government conspiracy, the Bakers switch the formula by forcing you as Ethan to fight through giant mold creatures fueled by the many victims of the family over the years. The Molded, as they’re known, exist primarily because of the source of the fungus itself, but the Bakers’ involvement in strengthening them through their homicidal actions places us in a house literally molded by the family to be a den of death and suffering.
The power of the mold twists the zombie formula by having us fight creatures that aren’t necessarily reanimated corpses, but beings literally born from a fungus that destroys their free will. Similarly, the Bakers have slowly started losing their free will, but the small bits of resistance set them apart from the zombies of old. Even when Jack and Marguerite try their best to dispose of you, little instances of them giving you a little breathing room are key to their characters.
Jack Baker, the most persistent of the infected family, has no problem with whacking you over the head with a shovel to incapacitate you, but moments like him offering you a first aid kit after chopping your foot off or his first appearance after the dinner scene that shows him stumbling into frame doubled over in pain show brief moments of pause for a man who could still be fighting whatever is influencing him.
Marguerite is still openly hostile towards Ethan (likely for refusing her meal), but the little bits of information spread throughout the house reveal her incredibly protective behavior towards what the family refers to as a gift. Whatever is the cause for the family’s transformation is something she feels she cannot give up under any circumstances. Considering that the matriarch is “gifted” with the ability to birth various bugs, it seems to imply that her newfound sense of motherhood is threatened by whatever the cure to their sickness is.
In a sense, Marguerite’s motivation is less for her own sick pleasure and more to preserve her new abilities at the cost of further destroying the last bits of her humanity. Lucas’ outright explanation of this as he tears off his fingernails taunting Ethan further confirms this. But even if the family’s general motivation is to protect their “gift”, the nature of their addiction feels so far removed from the crazy and outlandish plots of the previous Resident Evil games that it functions well enough as a brand new addition to video game horror instead of a soft reboot.
Because remember, this is technically the sixth mainline sequel of a franchise that has explored world domination in the past. Yet for most of the story, Biohazard stands on its own due to the effort put in realizing the characters of the Bakers. It isn’t just that we’re playing a regular schmuck like Ethan instead of special agents. It isn’t a plague that turns the infected into murderous drones like Las Plagas in Resident Evil 4. Biohazard is strengthened by focusing its story less on a mass outbreak and more on the effects the mold has on an already crumbling family.
But since this is a Resident Evil game, the classic government conspiracy trope rears its ugly head for the third act. It turns out that Eveline, a mysterious young girl who is apparently also the creepy elderly lady that loiters around the house and watches you, is the source of the fungus. In actuality, she is a bioweapon produced by a company called The Connections, developed with the purpose of scaling back combat in war by turning enemies into either allies or servants.
Eveline, the latest experiment for The Connections, produces the mold and is capable of infecting anyone she pleases. But her own obsession with family proves too difficult to control and during a transfer to South America by boat, she escapes with an infected and unconscious Mia to be rescued by the Bakers in October of 2014. From there, Eveline’s dreams for a family are realized as she casts her influence over the Bakers, forcing them to become the superpowered cannibals that they are when Ethan stumbles into the picture.
Truthfully, it’s not even an unwelcome addition to the story. There is usually an explanation for major events like these and it manages to line up Eveline’s dreams with the family dynamic we see in the Bakers. But as somebody who was all in on the Bakers being spotlighted as surprisingly compelling villains in a Resident Evil game, it was a little disheartening to see the family sidelined for the “actual” villains of the story: another faceless corporation through Eveline.
As Ethan and Mia battle their way through the third act, there are tidbits that explain how Eveline was the TRUE cause of everything. Everything is her fault, which a semblance of Jack Baker’s psyche explains to Ethan when he is temporarily trapped in mold. Jack insists that none of them were the way they were before Eveline and that he must free his family. It’s a heartfelt moment for sure, but that line seems to ignore the writing setting up the tense family dynamic that made the Bakers so interesting.
Through exploration, we can read information that gives us brief flashes of the Bakers’ lives before infection and it was far from the picture that Jack describes. Not only was Lucas a disturbed child who was apparently responsible for killing a fellow classmate by starving him in the attic, he even crafted a “Fuck You” list detailing his grievances against his family. This includes Zoe calling him a pervert for looking in on her doing yoga, Jack slapping his son for checking his phone during dinner and throwing his stuff outside in a drunk rage.
These are from Lucas’ point of view and he is far from a reliable narrator, but these small windows into the lives of the Bakers paint the picture of a family home crumbling under a sense of growing resentment. Eveline’s arrival ramps up the toxic family life to a new level, but the Bakers are an interesting case study of a family imploding amid long-simmering tensions. Forcing a Resident Evil-style trope into a story that was already starting to become fully realized on its own softens the presence of the Bakers in the most unfortunate way.
Even someone like Lucas, who is revealed to be a double agent cured of his sickness early on for the purpose of spying on his family, feels less like his own character and more like another cog in the Resident Evil machine. He already stands out for being the most troubled and unstable member of his family pre-infection, but to have the Bakers swept aside for the bioweapon plot that is the focus of the third act feels reductive for the engaging family drama unfolding within their house of horrors.
I don’t mind when Resident Evil falls back on the tropes and ideas that made the franchise a household name. Many of the games thrive on the over-the-top nature of the series’ overarching narrative, but Biohazard felt like such a departure from the series while still technically being a part of the game’s universe. For being a mainline game, it almost functions as a spin-off of the franchise and I would argue that with very minor tinkering, Biohazard could be an original game on its own.
The Bakers were the kind of antagonists that thrived with a smaller setting. There was a morbid, yet fascinating chemistry between a family desperately trying to protect the “gift” that has ironically brought them together in spite of the horrific consequences and an innocent bystander who just so happened to come across this situation. It’s a refreshing level of immersion that is stripped away as soon as the story expands beyond the family themselves and while Biohazard remains an altogether solid entry into the series, I can’t help but ponder how the game might’ve worked without being a Resident Evil game, per say.
Maybe my thoughts will change when I experience Resident Evil Village for myself and see how Ethan’s situation changes, but Biohazard remains one of my more memorable horror game playthroughs largely because of the compelling insanity of the Bakers. They don’t need the Resident Evil label to succeed as memorable villains, but an upside to that is many other Resident Evil fans are able to experience the same story than it if were an original title.