Since it first sparked the world’s interest in the survival horror genre, Resident Evil has always had a touch of campiness to it. Those moments of genuine horror shine bright, like maneuvering around Mr. X’s footsteps or facing down a faceless man with a chainsaw. For every scary segment, however, there’s always a wacky moment that comes out of left field. Resident Evil Village continues that tradition with mixed results.
Capcom’s latest takes that campiness a step further, to the point where it almost breaks the game’s narrative. By the end of the story, though, Resident Evil Village somehow warps that comical tone into something with far more gravity. That shift in attitude starts and ends with our protagonist, Ethan Winters.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Resident Evil Village.
Snapping the Suspension of Disbelief
Generally speaking, a lot of people aren’t big fans of Ethan, and it’s no surprise really. True to Resident Evil form, he has some pretty awful dialog that makes anyone cringe, and he has the charisma of a smashed crate that’s already been looted. Capcom insists on never showing his face—even the bathroom mirror in the opening segment obscures him, despite everything else benefiting from ray tracing. Realistically though, even if we saw his face, it’d probably be one of those fairly forgettable ones.
But for all the character’s faults, voice actor Todd Soley really sells those moments of pure fear. Whenever Ethan faces a terrible monster, the screams of terror really pull you into his plight. The first-person perspective plays a role here too, but that doesn’t discount Soley’s performance. Partway through the game, he starts playing an Ethan that’s scared but also over it, and for the most part, it works (if you ignore his terrible one-liners).
Where that suspended disbelief truly gets put to the test, however, is when Ethan starts losing actual body parts. He loses half his left hand, but slams it into a window sill in frustration. Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters hang him on meat hooks, skewering both hands in the process. To free himself, he pulls straight down, gruesomely splitting his hands open. Yet, just a few globs of first-aid juice are enough to stop the bleeding, mend his open wounds, and make him fit to wield shotguns and sniper rifles.
Then there’s the infamous moment when Dimitrescu cleanly slices Ethan’s right hand right off. “Severed Hand” becomes an inventory item, and suddenly, his trigger finger—and the other four—can’t be used. Nerves are severed. Blood should be spilling at an alarming rate, especially without any sort of tourniquet or bandage. But wait: Some first-aid juice reattaches his hand to his arm, no problem. Even his shirt and jacket are resewn back properly. Talk about first-class first aid.
Clearly, Ethan is a monster. Despite his “fear” of these creatures, he mends every broken bone and severed limb with some green herbs steeped in chemical fluids. Sure, the concept of pain may scare him, but it’s hard to see that as an obstacle or hindrance that creates meaningful conflict in the narrative. Without consequences, stakes mean nothing.
Of course, Resident Evil Village is just a game. There are no real ”stakes,” and every “game over” doesn’t need to factor into the overall narrative. Yet, with Ethan, the game conditions you to grow numb to those moments that shatter your disbelief. At some point, you give into the camp and let it take over. Ethan fell 100+ feet through a crumbling castle tower and survived? Sure. Some haunted dolls stab through his hands and forearms? He’ll be fine. Still, when compared to games of the past, it’s hard to ignore just how durable Ethan is. When Leon gets his head lobbed off by a chainsaw, it’s game over. When Ethan loses his leg or gets cleaved by an axe, it’s just another day in the village.
Then everything changes when we learn the truth about Ethan.
Campiness, Eat Your Heart Out
As Ethan faces down the final boss in the third act, he’s completely outclassed. Miranda reaches into him and literally rips his heart out. Through Ethan’s eyes, we see it beat in someone else’s hand as everything fades away. This macabre scene definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s also a bit hard to be invested in. Even when Chris Redfield’s comrade confirms Ethan’s death, Resident Evil Village has conditioned its audience to believe otherwise. Ethan can’t just die. He’s an immortal hero of an absurdly campy story that just happens to contain some elements of horror.
Yet, the game keeps up the facade. Players now take control of Chris, who chose to cosplay as a Call of Duty protagonist. After blasting some lycans with laser-guided missiles, we return to Ethan—because of course he isn’t dead. In fact, he’s having an out-of-body experience, where he learns that he’s a bio-organic weapon. When he was captured in Resident Evil 7, he actually died. It was the mold, the same one that creates monsters, that brought him back to life with newfound regenerative powers.
Suddenly, all those campy moments in Resident Evil Village (and, by extension, Resident Evil 7) shift in tone. All this time, Ethan wasn’t this comical, invincible superhero pretending to be in a horror game. He never questioned his insane regenerative powers, and frankly, many people probably (correctly) attributed that to his idiocy. At the same time, this setup subverts our expectations, pulling the rug out from under us with the reveal that we’ve been playing as a regenerating bioweapon the whole time.
Before the reveal, I was ready to argue that Resident Evil Village was almost campy to a fault. However, now I see it as a story that pushes the absurdity to its limit, only to reframe it with much more gravity later on. Ethan being a bioweapon deconstructs a lot of the silliness that happens to him throughout the story. Now, Ethan reattaching his hand is more than a ludicrous, ridiculous, borderline-hilarious moment in the story; it feeds into the overarching lore of Resident Evil.
Like many of its predecessors, Resident Evil Village warrants multiple playthroughs to unlock more achievements and weapons, but it also benefits from re-experiencing the narrative through a new lens. Ethan may not be as scary or cool as Mr. X or Nemesis, but he widens the scope of what it means to be a bioweapon in this world. On one hand, he provided Capcom a playground, letting them push the limits of their morbid, gory horror. On the other (severed) hand, he—and his daughter, Rose—provides the perfect launching pad for the audience to speculate wildly about the future of the series, more so than ever before.
After finishing Resident Evil Village, what are your thoughts on Ethan Winters? Does he still suck? Let us know in the comments below.