This article discusses plot points from the entirety of Resident Evil Village.
Ethan and Mia Winters’ home is large, comfortable, and perfectly maintained. Its spacious, hardwood-floored rooms are gently lit, and furnished like a Pinterest hygge page. There’s a piano in the living room next to a kitchen with a fireplace, large dining table, and throw pillows propped up against a little bench next to the window. Soft music plays as Ethan moves through this space, putting his daughter Rose to sleep in the crib in his large bedroom as his wife finishes setting the table with a rustic stew, slices of baguette, and a bottle of red wine. The player can practically smell the air—a cozy, quiet Sunday afternoon smell.
Then, just as Ethan sits down to dinner, the lights go out, armed men storm into the house, his wife is shot to death in front of him, his baby is stolen, and he’s knocked unconscious. The idyll of his home is broken apart.
Ethan spends the rest of Resident Evil Village trying to get back what he’s lost. Not just his child, who he soon learns has been split into four zombie pieces kept in vats (there’s no point explaining why or how this happens), but also the pristine vision of traditionalist domesticity that the game’s prologue has so violently taken from him.
Village is, like a number of the games before it, very much concerned with what constitutes a good or bad home, its horror drawing from the perversion of domestic spaces now overrun by gibbering Halloween props. (Even the series' North American title, Resident Evil, is a schlock play on the first game’s cold, secretive, puzzle box mansion setting, and is far more evocative than the original, blandly general Biohazard.) Immediately after its prologue ends, Ethan moves from his comfortable, suburban house and into the mysteriously vacant homes of a Romanian village’s population.
Ethan enters houses that speak to a far less comfortable existence than his own. These homes, set beneath the imposing silhouette of the gothic Castle Dimitrescu, are small, usually consisting of two or three rooms crammed with distressed, overturned furniture and uneven shelves, and decorated with cracking paint on crumbling drywall. The yards contain outhouses and farm equipment. They’re closed in by ramshackle wooden fences and old stone walls pockmarked with decades of untended wear.
The impression created by entering the village and poking around its residences is that its homes are sickly in a way that reflects the townsfolk's own infection with a mould that turns them into werewolves and zombie-like monsters. They've been emptied of the assumedly pleasant, if not exactly normal, family life that once made them more than the barren structures they’ve become. After spending time in the wake of its effects, the source of the disease itself is revealed through a drastic aesthetic shift. Ethan enters Castle Dimitrescu, where he begins to uncover the monstrous origin of the region's spreading evil, and finds in its eye-wateringly baroque interiors a counterpoint to the weary, run-down utilitarianism of the homes he’s just left.
Instead of creating the impression that he’s now found a place as comfortable as his lost suburban house, though, the Castle’s opulence, all spotless ivory accented with shimmering golden details, twinkling chandeliers, and plush chaise longues, drips with menace. This is, in part, because its halls are stalked by the Lady Dimitrescu, a giant vampire who patrols her ancestral home alongside three equally blood-thirsty daughters in a determined effort to find and horribly murder Ethan. But, more than the explicit threat of these vampires, Village manifests real unease in the very architectural and cultural premise of the Castle.
Where Ethan and Mia’s home represents a kind of mental Elysium and the villages suggest a creeping malignancy, Castle Dimitrescu offers a perversion of Village’s understanding of ideal domesticity, with all the patriarchal family structures that accompany that concept. Beginning with its prologue, the game suggests a supposedly natural order to the good home. The introduction ominously foreshadows the horror to come by positioning Ethan’s wife Mia not as blandly, submissively supportive but as a ball and chain who's tainting the proper harmony of his nuclear family; a real drag who, we learn through Ethan’s remarks and the notes left in their home, hints that something isn't quite right with his paradise as she gets loudly upset when reminded of their Resident Evil 7 monster-induced kidnapping or when he takes too long coming downstairs to eat the dinner she’s prepared for them.
The archvillain of the game is a mom, too. Mother Miranda (later revealed to be impersonating Mia during the opening sequence) is the one who stole away Ethan’s baby—who is so obsessed with recreating the family tragically taken from her after her own daughter’s death that she destroyed the Winters’ own in her attempt to usurp it for her needs. Every one of the mutant lieutenants who control the Romanian village are her twisted children, created but found unfit to be hosts for her new daughter. (The saddest of them is Salvatore Moreau, a pathetic fish-man who watches television in a dank, dark, fetid hut by the reservoir the village’s rivers feed into, and loudly cries out to be accepted by his erstwhile “mother,” who seems to despise him as much as every other character does.)
Not only is Mother Miranda’s vision of family so evil that it’s required the destruction of the Winters and the formation of literal monsters, a cult devoted to her worship, and the screaming deaths of her subjects, but it’s also implicitly perverse for its inversion of the father-led home depicted as safe, warm, and comfortable in Village’s opening.
This concept manifests in many ways throughout the game. There are the werewolves, always men, who have abandoned Ethan’s orderly, domestic responsibility to run wild through the village, half-naked, covered in hair, and howling for flesh. There’s his first encounter with one of them, which leaves his left hand a mutilated, bloody pulp where a severed finger just barely contains his soon-to-be-bandaged-and-hidden wedding ring. There’s the heroic daughter of a villager who gives herself to the flames of a burning building in order to dutifully perish alongside her werewolf father. There’s Heisenberg’s smoke-belching factory, whose mechanical womb pumps out living weapons of his design in a masculine, industrial mockery of birth. There’s the transport truck-sized fetus creature slumbering wet, red, and strange beneath the town square like the living pulse animating Mother Miranda’s deranged quest. There’s Lady Dimitrescu and her coven of daughters, whose domestic life is devoted to terror.
Maybe most striking of all, there's also the nightmarish inverse image of the Winters home represented in the mourning, lonesome Donna Beneviento and her chittering haunted doll, Angie. Where Castle Dimitrescu’s basic structure suggests that the four women’s home must be parasitic and overly refined, the Beneviento house directly states that a fractured family is understood best as a living nightmare. The manor is designed to mirror the lived-in domesticity of the Winters’ blissful home, neither as extravagantly empty and fussily decorated as the castle or as beaten down and dilapidated as the villagers' residences. Its upper floors are neatly arranged, tastefully decorated, well taken care-of and lit. Only it’s gone wrong. Donna Beneviento, dressed in black funeral gown, is in permanent mourning for her deceased family, and she expresses this by trying to trap Ethan with her by drugging him and leading him into a basement where a mannequin of his wife is set on an ad-hoc operating table. From her body, an umbilical cord leads away and, as Ethan learns in a moment of disgust and terror, toward the hulking, half-formed giant baby that stomps through the darkness laughing wordlessly as it hunts him. Upstairs, Donna’s living doll—her murderous companion —hides amidst other figures in various rooms of the house, waiting to jump out from benign surroundings in an attempt to maul Ethan.
The true horror, Village makes clear in this sequence, is a happy domestic life turned upside down. As the most overtly frightening sequence of the game—Ethan’s weapons are stripped from him during it, leaving him defenseless as he hides from the mutant baby or steps gingerly into pitch-black rooms—it makes a fairly unavoidable statement: the destruction or alteration of an upper middle class, father-led nuclear family is scary. For all the gorgeous tension of its early combat encounters, the gleeful joy of its creature design and corny dialogue, it's the ruined homes of its setting that linger.
The game’s final moments see a teenaged Rose, many years after Ethan’s death during her rescue from the Romanian village, returning to the grave of a father she didn’t really know. She’s apparently sent out on missions now thanks to her inherited, mould-based powers (once again, explaining why or how this happens would take too much time). She wanders the globe but returns always to the cemetery where she visits regularly to talk to the dad who died when she was less than a year old. Rather than visit Mia, her mother who survived the events of the game, Rose finds reprieve from the no-doubt demanding tasks of being an international super-spy in the reassuring sense of domestic familiarity her deceased father offers.
Village ends with a postscript, written across the screen as a somber epitaph: “The father’s story is now done.” Rose leaves for another mission, and we know that, whatever form it takes, it will be as filled with strange monsters and threatening homes as Resident Evil always is. Because her father’s story is “now done” and she’s left the domestic life they could've had behind for something that the series will inevitably depict as far less rational and more incorrect.
Reid McCarter is a writer and a co-editor of Bullet Points Monthly. His work has appeared at The AV Club, GQ, Kill Screen, Playboy, The Washington Post, Paste, and VICE. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER and Okay, Hero, co-hosts the Bullet Points podcast, and tweets @reidmccarter.