28 Weeks Later is to 28 Days Later what James Cameronís Aliens was to Ridley Scottís Alien. In both cases, the original film was a moody, claustrophobic story punctuated by occasional bursts of horrific violence. The sequels, in each instance, ponder what would happen if that claustrophobia gave way to mayhem, and both have a heavy emphasis on military action in the wake of an otherworldly enemy. The Alien pictures are better, but thereís still something to be said for this series about a ďrage virusĒ that turns innocent Londoners into bloodthirsty zombies.
In a prologue, we meet Don Harris (Robert Carlyle), who is hiding in a remote cottage with his wife, an elderly couple, and some other survivors of the plague that has torn through England. The zombies find them and break into the cottage. Don, fearing that heíll never get to see his children again, callously saves himself, leaving his wife to face the creatures on her own.
As the title suggests, the movie then jumps to seven months after the original. The virus has (allegedly) been contained. London is slowly being repopulated, under the watchful eye of the American military. They have snipers positioned on every building rooftop to make sure that everyone gets back in safely. Don meets up with his kids, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), who have no clue that he abandoned their mother in her most desperate time of need. This being a horror movie, you probably do not need me to tell you that the virus is still out there. Don ends up getting infected, and the kids are discovered to have a rare blood quality that could provide a cure. However, the rampant resurgence of the virus Ė and the militaryís inability to control the subsequent feeding frenzy Ė leads to a declaration of ďCode RedĒ status. Army leaders decide that the only way to contain the virus from spreading further is to wipe out everyone who has been let back into the country. The snipers are ordered to fire upon anyone who moves.
Meanwhile, a military scientist named Scarlet (Rose Byrne) wants to study the blood of Tammy and Andy, so she tries to help them escape extermination. So does Sergeant Doyle (Jeremy Renner), a sniper who canít morally swallow the order to kill everyone. They try to get the kids to safety while escaping the zombies, most notably Don.
Although it advertises itself as little more than a blood-soaked horror flick, 28 Weeks Later is clearly intended as a metaphor for the Iraq war, with American forces being sent to a foreign country to ďstabilizeĒ the situation, only to watch it spiral completely out of their control. Using the horror genre to hide a social/political message is not new, but these days it certainly is rare. Thatís one of the qualities that set this film and its predecessor apart: they have some weight to them. Itís interesting that the theme is raised, although I think the movie could have been even more political. Itís initially provocative to make the connection, yet the commentary never really goes anywhere. Itís entirely possible to combine a genre picture with social content (Children of Men and Panís Labyrinth are great examples), provided you follow through. In this case, Iím not sure the film has anything to say other than to express some subliminal anger at the situation.
I donít mean to make the movie sound like a political screed, though. Truth be told, 28 Weeks Later is a genuinely scary thrill ride. The great breakthrough of the original was that it got rid of the conventional image of zombies as slow-moving beings. Instead, the victims of the rage virus change within seconds, rapidly acquiring speed, strength, and an insatiable thirst for blood. This idea is used repeatedly to create an underlying sense of danger. We know the characters will have to think fast in order to avoid the relentless pursuit of the infected.
The opening attack on the cottage is intense beyond belief, but my favorite scene comes near the end as Scarlet tries to guide Tammy and Andy through a pitch-black subway system that is littered with dead bodies. She looks through a night-vision scope (the kind that makes everything look green) and gives the others directions about which way to step so they donít trip over the corpses. We watch this unfold through that scope, so the sense of confusion and disorientation affects us as well as the characters. A lot of 28 Weeks Later is like that. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) provides a relentlessly tense pace that eerily captures the unpredictability of the zombie attacks. When it was over, I walked out of the theater with frayed nerves.
The family dynamics between Don and his children help to give the story some grounding; without that human element, the movie wouldnít be nearly as effective. All in all, Iíd put 28 Weeks Later on par with the original. This one is bloodier and more overtly action-packed, but it also lacks the intensely nightmarish paranoia of Danny Boyleís original. Still, as horror flicks go, itís entertaining and effective, and more than a little frightening.
( out of four)
28 Weeks Later is rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
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