SPOILER WARNING: I’ll be talking in great detail about Resident Evil 7’s main twist for the entirety of this article. Consider yourself warned.
“I’m no killer, son”. Those words come from the mouth of Resident Evil 7’s Jack Baker. Until this point the only side you’ve seen to him is that of a homicidal killer, someone who will stop at nothing until your blood is soaking into the mansion’s hardwood floor. But now he’s pleading with you, asking you to “free my family. Please”. The cutscene is barely two minutes long, yet it changes the way you see Resident Evil 7’s monstrous family forever. Free from Eveline’s control, Jack makes it clear that they’re not always grotesque villains - they’re victims just like you. And it’s been gnawing at my conscience for over a year.
This revelation comes about halfway through the game. A vision shows Ethan tied up in the Baker house with a normal Jack Baker trying to calmly explain that he and Marguerite lapse in and out of being in Eveline’s control. She might look like a harmless little girl, but Eveline is a bioweapon who gains power over anyone she comes into contact with, warping this caring family into perverse versions of themselves on the outside. Inside those ghastly creatures are the Baker family’s true selves, helplessly trapped within their own bodies and doomed to watch as they kill, maim, and torture the people they desperately want to help. The entire game changes from this point onwards. Instead of fighting a twisted family who don’t seem to understand that Eveline’s ‘gift’ is a death sentence, you now know that somewhere inside themselves, Marguerite and Jack are the same as before but have no control over what they’re doing.
Maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty if the Daughters DLC hadn’t come out. Arriving in the Banned Footage Vol. 2 DLC, the minigame followed Zoe from the point when Eveline was first brought to the Baker household. Marguerite lovingly jokes about Jack wanting to open a bed and breakfast, Jack lays Eveline in bed and asks you to get her some clean clothes, and Lucas is sullen but harmless. They’re so damn normal. As Eveline starts to take them over Marguerite and Jack’s real personalities surface in brief flashes. After stalking her own daughter through the corridors Marguerite uses the few seconds of control she has to beg Eveline not to hurt her family and thrusts the car keys at Zoe in a futile attempt to help her escape. Down in the garage Zoe is finally caught by her warped parents, and Jack raises his fist to punch her into submission - and hesitates. It’s only for a second, but it’s enough. He glances at his daughter’s hands, raised in self-defence, and pauses. One year later my heart still breaks at that moment.
Being faced with a brainwashed character isn’t a new concept, though. Evil Within 2’s bespectacled Liam O’Neal gets turned into a murderous Harbinger by Father Theodore, but even as a flamethrower-wielding monster he fights back against the urge to kill his colleague Yukiko Hoffman. Unfortunately that restraint doesn’t extend to towards you, as it’s only after your (obviously lethal) fight with him that he returns to his previous self. Life under the sea is similarly messed up in Bioshock 2, where Augustus Sinclair - the lippy businessman who is your guiding hand for most of the campaign - is forced into becoming Subject Omega, a Big Daddy prototype that’s under Sophia Lamb’s control. Like Liam he’s forced to fight you, and like Liam he ends up dead.
With both Augustus and Liam, you knew them before they were brainwashed, when they were helpful buddies who guided you through the equally distorted worlds of Rapture and Union. They were humans first, monsters second. Not so with Resident Evil 7. Finding out the real, uncorrupted Bakers were still conscious inside their violent shells was the game’s twist. Because not only does it mean they’re not as evil as you first thought, but turns out you’re not exactly blameless either. All this time you’ve been battling against a family and fighting for your own survival when all Jack wants is for his loved ones to be saved. I’d rather have an antagonist who wants to make a boa out of my intestines, mainly because of one thing: hope. Haunting your mind for the rest of your time in the Baker’s house is the thought that they could be saved. Somewhere underneath the finite supply of ammo and dishevelled interior design is the hope that they haven’t completely succumbed to Eveline’s influence.
True horror isn’t just about the threat of death hanging over your head. For it to really get to you, you have to be complicit in things that terrify you. Anyone who’s made it to the end of Resident Evil 7 knows that there’s nothing you can do to save the Bakers. After Ethan’s vision you become part of the cycle of evil, hurting Jack and Marguerite who are just victims themselves. What’s even worse is that Jack and Marguerite probably don’t even blame you for lashing out at them either.
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Somehow, even after he’s been made to mutilate unlucky strangers who get dragged into their lair at Eveline’s command, Jack is still a good person. After everything he’s been through he still sympathises with Eveline in Ethan’s vision, as in his words “the girl just wants a family of her own”, proving that his real self hasn’t been corrupted by Eveline. Yet. Despite all she’s done to him and all that she’s made him do, Jack pities her. Seeing goodness survive that kind of evil influence is heartbreaking as although Jack may be able to see Eveline’s side of things, you know it’s hopeless looking in from the outside. I can’t know for certain if Marguerite feels the same, but one thing is for sure: the Bakers are beyond help.
Thanks to Resident Evil 7, the terrors lurking in the shadows in future horror games have a lot to live up to. Will they make me wince with every bullet I fire into their skull? Talking to Jack for just two minutes made me rethink everything in the game up till that point and question whether the very things that are trying to massacre me might be redeemable. Oh, and made me feel really, horribly, excruciatingly guilty.