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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Resident Evil Village’s doll house is the creepiest and most heart-breaking location

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Warning! There are serious spoilers for Resident Evil Village ahead. I strongly recommend finishing it before reading on.

Resident Evil Village is split into distinct zones, all of which play host to a new, frightening experience for Ethan Winters. The bosses that reside in these areas each have their own flavour of horror, whether it’s a twisted vampiric fantasy, telekinetic terror, or straight up gross-out gore. However, the one that hit me hardest, and messed with my head, was a dreary house shrouded in mist. Capcom has managed to take a classic horror trope that we’re all so familiar with, and put such a sorrowful and unsettling spin on it that’s still whirring in my brain days later.

House Beneviento is tucked away in the snowy mountains, east of the grandeur of Castle Dimitrescu. While you cannot avoid this segment and are led here for a compulsory boss fight, it still feels like you’ve stumbled across the house by chance when you first arrive. Donna Beneviento’s abode feels like it’s off the beaten track, away from the village, and entering her lonely home immediately filled me with a sense of sadness.

At this point, you’ll have just wandered through a winding path filled with creepy dolls that lead to the house, and it’s fair to say that I was feeling a bit tense after stalking an apparition of Mia through the snow. The area is peppered with headstones and flowers, with one grave illuminated by an unnatural glow that drew me towards it.

‘—a Beneviento 1987 – 1996’.

With all these warning signs, I can only be hurtling towards a haunted house filled with scary dolls and maybe even a ghost, right? Upon entering, I’m braced for the lights to flicker off, and for Angie to crawl out from somewhere to chop my hand off, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, there’s time to comb each room and search for answers. With lights on and candles lit, the house still feels lived in, albeit in disrepair. There are even two dirty tea cups on a table, and various photos confirm that this was a family home. Each room’s emptiness hints that something tragic has happened here, but I can’t ignore the carefully placed dolls in each room, either. Unlike the castle, you can’t break pots, and there isn’t much to steal in the house. The rules have clearly changed the second you walk through the door, and the bad stuff awaits downstairs.

What makes House Beneviento so unsettling is how its horror stops and starts at uncomfortable intervals. After you discover the Doll Workshop, you find yourself face-to-face with Angie for the first time. It’s here that she empties your inventory, including your weapons, leaving you the most vulnerable you’ll ever feel in RE Village. Then she cuts the power and skitters away. You’re conditioned to feel powerful after taking out the daughters and Lady D in the castle, so this feels especially distressing. You’ll even visit the Duke to upgrade your weapons and stock up on ammo before walking to the house, only to suddenly lose everything.

The game keeps you busy while toying with you, though. There’s a long list of items to find in the doll puzzle, and I found some comfort in those brief moments where I was primarily focused on searching for clues. These tasks were just cryptic enough to keep my mind off how powerless I was, but your surroundings get worse as you go. Each part of the puzzle forced me to venture further in the basement to other rooms, even though I really didn’t want to. The corridors get considerably darker as you progress, and creeping along some of them transports you straight back to 2014’s terrifying PT demo.

One of the most impressive things about this section is that there aren’t many scary moments once Angie leaves you to it, and that’s what makes this section so mentally exhausting. It’s the potential that something could happen at any moment. Is the mannequin going to jolt alive while I’m examining it? What’s on the other side of that locked door? There’s an unwavering threat that something is waiting down one of the hallways and, cruelly, there really is something there! But it’s much later, so you spend a lot of your time skulking around and helplessly waiting for it to appear.

As I sped through some of the puzzles, occasional crackles on the radio and sighs from a far-off Angie reminded me that the closer I got to piecing everything together, the sooner I’d have to face her. To make things worse, the items you find are unnervingly personal as they focus on Ethan’s family. However, the puzzle is especially cruel in how it mirrors the Winters’ situation. Not only has Rose been kidnapped, but this area twists the idea of a parent losing a child, later morphing the baby into a contorted monster. While I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to interpret this section, it feels like it’s playing on Ethan’s fears. He keeps hearing that Rose is powerful and she’s now literally in pieces. After overcoming all these obstacles, it’s also really sad that the terrifying creature at the end of the corridor is a baby.

Don’t get me wrong, this is the scariest baby I’ve ever encountered. The way it pokes its head around the end of the corridor is absolutely chilling. It’s distorted cries echoed through the basement as I scrambled to get the power back on, and my heart leapt every time I had cower under the bed to hide from it. There’s reason to fear this enemy as it’ll kill you if you get too close, but it’s upsetting to see this hideous creature feebly chase you around you on all fours.

I find horror all the more scary when it’s rooted in a sad story, and you don’t get much of a break between facing the baby monster and Donna Beneviento. Her story is heartbreaking in its own way. If you read the Gardener’s Diary you’ll know that Donna’s parents died when she was young. She was lonely as a child and self conscious about the scars on her face, so Angie is essentially the closest thing she has to a friend. She created a personality for the doll and can now control it with her powers. As a result, her boss fight isn’t really much of a ‘fight’ at all.

Donna’s boss fight is unique in that you won’t be using all the fire power in your inventory to target weak points and deal damage. Instead, you scour the house (which is now teeming with creepy dolls) for Angie and stab her a few times. There’s no way you can fail, so the whole sequence manages to make you feel powerful again, even though you don’t have any of your weapons. This felt like a well-needed break after having been on tenterhooks for the past half an hour, and with Angie egging Ethan on for the duration it felt good to finally silence her. But when it was all over I realised how pathetic the encounter really was. Donna appears next to Angie after you kill her, and even Ethan’s shocked that it’s over so quickly. You just walk out of the house and that’s it.

Later on, you’ll discover that all the bosses got the raw end of the deal once they met Mother Miranda. None of them asked for her to experiment on them, in fact, the other people that she picked off from the village either died or turned into lycans. The four main houses are the unlucky few that survived. Lady Dimitrescu has a hereditary blood disease that was exacerbated by Miranda’s meddling. Heisenberg practically begs Ethan to let him use Rose’s powers to take out his handler, and Moreau’s just really ill. I felt for all of them after reading into their pasts, but at least the other three had a bit of fight left in them.

Lady Dimitrescu played a starring role  in Capcom’s marketing and while she’s quickly become an iconic character, there’s so much more to the game than the little we see of her in Resident Evil Village. The Castle is the most exciting area to explore, break things, and fight a big boss, but I can’t stop thinking about House Beneviento and I don’t think I’ll get over it anytime soon. It’s so different to every other part of the game, and it’s easily the scariest section. I’ve never felt this way in a survival horror game before, and I’m impressed with the amount of depth that’s been squeezed into the second boss of a ten-hour game. I can’t forgive Donna’s unique brand of psychological torture, but I’m still trying to unpack how she made me feel so scared and so sad all at once.

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