28 Weeks Later

| May 17, 2007

With 28 Days Later…, the writing and directing tandem of Alex Garland and Danny Boyle gave us a new spin on a traditional horror premise. By focusing on a small group of survivors in post-Apocalyptic England, they were able to make the audience buy into the silly idea of a “rage virus” that infects the victim turning him or her into a crazed killing machine. Their film was exciting and frightening, not only because of the situation but for the fact that they gave their characters time to breathe and develop. When a character was in danger or killed, the extra time that Boyle took in giving that character some depth made the audience care that much more, deepening the emotional impact of the moment. In the current film world, the prevailing belief for horror sequels seems to be bigger, louder, bloodier, but not necessarily better. 28 Weeks Later meets those criteria.
As the film opens, we meet Don (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting) and his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack, Dangerous Beauty). They are hiding with a handful of other survivors in a house during the initial outbreak. When the infected literally beak the door down, Don fights them off as heroically as he can before panic and fear get the better of him and he makes his escape, abandoning Alice to her certain death. After the virus has run its course and the infected starve to death, American military forces are put in charge of safely repopulating the decimated country with citizens who were lucky enough to be abroad during the outbreak. Two of those lucky ones are Don and Alice’s children, Tammy (Imogen Poots, V for Vendetta) and Andy (newcomer, Mackintosh Muggleton). They are reunited with Don in the safe zone where he lies in his account of the attack on the house, claiming Alice was dead before he made his escape. This lie inadvertently leads to a tragic set of circumstances that results in a new outbreak of the virus. Tammy and Andy find themselves running for their lives, not only from the infected, but also from the U.S. military, which seeks to kill all those who come into contact with the infected. They find unlikely allies and protectors in Scarlet (Rose Byrne, Wicker Park), a medical officer with the military who believes Andy may be the key to a cure for the virus, and Doyle (Jeremy Renner, S.W.A.T.), a sniper unable to follow his orders to kill the uninfected.
At just over 90 minutes, the film feels rushed and tries to be too many things at once. It wants to be a sensitive portrayal of a family that has been ripped apart by circumstances out of their control, a political allegory about the current war in Iraq, and a bloody horror film full of gore and scares. The characters are never given the room or the time to develop sufficiently enough for the audience to really care about whether they live or die. The parallel to Iraq is intriguing, but never really followed through on. Where the sequel surpasses the original is in the horror department. In Boyle’s film, the infected attacked, but the audience was never really shown the vicious ways they killed their victims. This time around, the infected seem even more violent. Not only do they bite their victims, they punch them, claw them, gouge their eyes out, and use tools to beat them to death. And since they are infected with rage, their faces are twisted in pure hate while they do it all. The effect is chilling. On the flip side of the coin, the carnage inflicted upon the infected by the heavily armed military is just as graphic and brutal, culminating in a stunningly gory sequence where the blades of a helicopter are used to take out dozens of people infected with the virus.
The successful release of 28 Days Later… was credited with renewing interest in the zombie genre and gained favorable comparisons to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, never mind the fact that the infected aren’t really zombies. With 28 Weeks Later, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo seems to have taken a visual and thematic cue from another of Romero’s films, The Crazies. Like that grim cult classic, Fresnadillo’s film takes an equally negative look at the effects that martial law has on a desperate situation. He even manages to give his film the down and dirty feel of that era’s horror releases by shooting on grainy Super 16mm film, saturating nearly every outdoor scene in bright sunlight and every indoor scene in stiflingly claustrophobic darkness. The result is that he manages to capture a documentary feel that puts the audience right in the middle of the film.
With a slightly longer running time, Fresnadillo might have been able to match Boyle’s knack for balancing character with carnage. Despite that handicap, he does manage to use enough of what was memorable about the first film (including an effective recycling of John Murphy’s score) and bring in enough of his own visual flair to make a worthwhile if slightly inferior sequel.

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