By the time you reach House Beneviento in Resident Evil Village, you may think you have a pretty good idea of what kind of game you’re playing. This post contains spoilers for the story and some of the best moments in Resident Evil Village. If you haven’t completed the game, you might want to do so before continuing on.
Ethan Winters, the hapless (and, occasionally, handless) protagonist of the series’ two most recent entries, has already been through a lot when he stumbles onto the cliffside where the ominous manor awaits. His daughter, Rose, has been stolen, apparently killed, split into pieces, and divvied up to a quartet of local VIPs. His wife, Mia, has been killed. And Chris Redfield, the hulking hero of Resident Evils past, seems to be responsible for all of it. As Ethan begins his terrifying journey through a village filled with werewolves and a castle inhabited by vampires, he can’t count on any of the people he thought he could trust. Instead, all he has are the guns he can find and the ammo he can scavenge.
All of that goes out the window when he arrives at House Beneviento. As we approach the game’s second major area, the stage is set. Eerie dolls hang from trees. Mia appears as a ghostly apparition. Ethan slips a family photograph through a mail slot with the inscription, “Give up your memories,” unlocking access to the cliffside. We follow this path to reach the sprawling mansion. There is an abyss on our left, and a waterfall ahead. There is nowhere to go but into this foreboding house. Shortly after we enter, the lights go out and a childish voice speaks to Ethan, offering to be a better daughter than Rose. When the lights turn back on, Ethan’s weapons are gone.
Both Resident Evil Village and its predecessor, Resident Evil 7, take heavy inspiration from a newer generation of horror games. These titles, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and P.T., have shifted the action to a first-person perspective, eschewed combat, and focused on the horrors of vulnerability. Though the very best have managed to make this mixture sing, many have struggled to make “run” and “hide” compelling enough mechanics to sustain an entire game. Resident Evil Village, however, doesn’t attempt this. Instead, it gives us one horrifically scary run-and-hide section, hands us our weapons back, and sends us on our merry way.
House Beneviento is significantly more frightening than anything in Village that comes before or after, in part, because it takes time to set the scene. The puzzles we find send us back and forth throughout space, introducing us to the corridors we will soon be sprinting through. We traverse narrow, dimly lit hallways to find a doll workshop, an office, a kitchen, and a storage room. There are dolls where we least expect them. At times, the childish voice taunts us. There is a mannequin, which bears a striking resemblance to Mia, whose limbs can be manipulated to reveal useful objects. We are, without realizing it, making the preparations needed to survive.
And then, the lights go out. We hear a baby’s cry. It sounds like it could be Rose, but as we approach the noise, we are greeted by a terrifying sight: a massive glob of fatty tissues with a gaping mouth, that shrieks and laughs like an infant as it uses its front limbs to pull its bleeding mass through the narrow hallways. It’s terrifying, in part, because it looks like nothing we’ve seen in the game so far, nor anything we’ve seen in a Resident Evil game, period. More than that, we’re afraid because, with the lights extinguished, we can only see the creature in brief flashlight glimpses. This is a crucial element of the terror here. It’s a truism at this point but it’s also true: the horror that we can imagine, conjured from the darkest recesses of our subconscious, will always be scarier than the horror someone else devises.
To escape the area, we can’t just run and hide. We need to keep our wits about us and complete the tasks required to turn the power back on. To do that, we must find a fuse and plug it into a power box before the fetal monster catches us and swallows us whole. The tasks we had to accomplish earlier gave us a solid understanding of the level’s layout. If we paid attention while exploring, we know where we can turn to escape. However, once the monster appears, it puts our navigational abilities to the test, demanding that we remember the ins and outs of the space while avoiding certain death–while the child’s laughter and the gloopy sounds of the monster’s steps create panic and dread like an embryonic Mr. X. When we near the end of the section, we have to hide under a bed and sneak past the monster as it oozes within inches of us, and the unease is excruciating. In this moment, we know that the monster is nearby. But the level is constantly frightening because the sounds emanating from the creature challenge our sense of space. Is it two rooms behind me or two steps?
Once we bolt from the bed, we can easily outpace the monster on our sprint back to the elevator. But, we must do two things very quickly: insert the fuse and hit the call button. As we wait for the elevator to arrive, the monster has suddenly closed the gap, and we must run and avoid it long enough for the elevator to reach us, then sprint onto the lift, hit the button, and trust the doors to close before the monster can catch us. When they do, we’re finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
The level ends on a slightly anticlimactic note, as we go through a fairly rote boss fight against Donna Beneviento, the lady of the manor. But, the fear of our encounter with the infant terror remains long after we bid the house adieu. In a game where most battles happen in broad daylight, with plenty of firepower on hand, our trip through House Beneviento is so frightening because it upends everything we’ve come to expect.Thanks to the level’s brevity and impeccable pacing, disorienting use of sound design, and Capcom’s smart decision to only reveal the creature by flashlight, we leave with the knowledge that we have encountered something terrifying. Though, crucially, we don’t know exactly what it is that we’ve encountered.
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