May 11, 2007

Movie Review: 28 Weeks Later

Posted in Movies at 7:53 pm by Calico Jack

Few could have suspected the enthusiasm that greeted the release of Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later, a fresh take on the zombie genre which had grown rather stale in the decades following George Romero’s landmark Living Dead series. Boyle turned accepted conventions upside-down when he depicted a present-day Britain utterly desolated by a “rage” virus — a disease which caused its infected to lose all control over their aggression and animal instincts, yet forced them to breed new carriers through blood transfers (i.e., gruesome bites). Boyle’s zombies were fleet of foot and horrifyingly ferocious, yet the scariest images in 28 Days Later were of the complete devastation wrought by a country that had abandoned civilization for a primal, kill-on-sight society.

28 Weeks Later picks up six months after the initial outbreak, after the last remaining infected have died off from starvation. But its intense opening sequence actually occurs some months prior to the rest of the film; a few survivors are holed up in a rural farm, living off of canned food and only ever catching glimpses of daylight through the slatted boards nailed to the windows and doors. Among them are Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), a husband and wife whose kids are vacationing in Spain, safely away from the carnage wracking the countryside. All is not idyllic, however, and disaster strikes almost immediately. Here director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (hand-picked by Boyle to take the reins in the sequel) gives the audience its first taste of what is to come: frenzied screaming and copious blood-spattering coupled with jittery camera cuts as an invasion of the infected quickly overwhelms the farmhouse’s inhabitants.

Once a U.S.-led NATO force establishes that Britain is free from contamination, a trickle of displaced refugees are allowed to come back to a quarantined area in London known as the “Green Zone.” Under the watchful eye of the U.S. military, these residents begin to rebuild their homes and their lives — or at least try to, although everyone seems to be walking around in a dazed stupor. Perhaps the magnitude of destruction in Britain is too much to comprehend for most. Two children are also a part of the quarantined civilians: Tammy (Imogen Poots) and her younger brother Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), Dom and Alice’s children now returned to their city.

Eager to reclaim memories of their family, Tammy and Andy sneak outside of the Green Zone and make their way back to their home. Something rather startling occurs (I’m trying to stay spoiler-free), and the two unleash a series of events that leads to a re-outbreak of infection, spreading through both soldiers and civilians like wildfire. Panicked at the realization that the military is unable to control the infected, Commanding General Stone (Idris Elba) orders a Code Red — the slaughter of everyone caught at ground level. Hellfire literally rains from the sky in a fiendish inferno of death and destruction, yet Tammy and Andy are fortuitously saved by Delta sniper Doyle (Jeremy Renner) and military doctor Scarlet (Rose Byrne). Scarlet knows that the children might hold the key to stopping the infection, but all four are marked for death by a military bent on eradicating anyone who could possibly come into contact with the infected.

28 Weeks Later is a rare sequel that is actually better than the original. In some ways it suffers from sequel-itis: bigger budget, bigger explosions, bigger everything. But Fresnadillo handles everything with a deft touch, and his depictions of desolated London are in many ways even more striking and disturbing than those in the original. This is also a film that I wish had been longer; its 99-minute running time flies by immensely fast — mostly due, I suspect, to the barrage of brutal images displayed one after the next in scenes of bloody terror. The audience is barely given a chance to breathe, let alone think about what has been shown, before the next calamity overtakes the ragged group of survivors fleeing for their lives. Such pacing does not always work well, but here it is inspired; the overwhelming theme of bleak hopelessness coupled with images of ferocious savagery create a truly horrifying experience. 28 Weeks Later is intelligently effective on almost every level, from a straightforward dystopian horror film to a bloody treatise on the difficulties of rebuilding a nation (and I mean that quite seriously). Now let’s hope that 28 Months Later can round out this generation’s best horror film trilogy in style.

A-.

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