28 WEEKS LATER
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots, Catherine McCormack, Harold Perrineau
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Running Time: 1:39
Release Date: 5/11/07
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Review by Mark Dujsik
All the way through till the end of its first act, 28 Weeks Later is an intense and highly personal take on the zombie genre, one that seems prepared to take its rank among the likes of its predecessor and Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Then it becomes troublesome, repeating the same notes, losing its sense of humanity, and ending on an open-ended, sequel-necessary postscript that only makes one wonder what more could be done that wouldn't just be repetitious. If I sound like I'm disappointed, I am, but even when the film's concept gets tired after the first act, it is still a stylish, atmospheric work of a solid craftsman. 28 Weeks Later was directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, whose sense of genuine visual horror and timing in the more common scare moments are strong. It features a few briefly sketched but still sympathetic characters who we feel a tinge of grief when they're snuffed, but the film's obvious and frivolous attempts to turn the original's psychological terror into a series of well-executed but hollow set pieces for mass consumption is unfortunate. The film works for what it is, but we've already seen what can be accomplished with this material. That shadow hangs heavy.
At the height of the Infected's reign of terror in England, Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) are hiding in a cottage with a group of other people. Life is rough, and their only relief is that their children are safe, out of the country at school. As the group sits for dinner, there's a knock at the door. A young boy cries for help, and Alice opens the door. The brightness of the outside world is overwhelming—the entire cottage has been boarded shut. The boy tells of his infected parents trying to kill him and how he ran, a group of Infected chasing after him. Someone looks outside; they're here. What follows is the film's most harrowing scene, as Don and Alice run through the house, the Infected chasing them and killing off everyone else. A ghastly moment of decision arrives, and Don, either cowardly or running off his basest instincts of survival, leaves his wife behind. He runs toward a river; a motorboat sits docked. Swarms of the Infected are in pursuit, but he manages to escape. He looks back and sees his wife disappear from the window. Twenty-eight weeks after the initial outbreak, an American-led NATO force has finally allowed children back into the country; Don's children Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) are among them.
Normalcy—or as close to it as is possible—is making a return. Military medics, like Scarlet (Rose Byrne), see that those arriving in the country are healthy. There are security zones established outside the city limits. No one is allowed into London. Snipers, including Doyle (Jeremy Renner), patrol the rooftops. Cameras surveil the streets. Don tells his children a less-damning story of their mother's death, and it's a good thing Robert Carlyle is playing this role. He infuses it with so much agonizing guilt that, when his son asks if there was nothing he could do, we can see he's asked that of himself too many times to count. This mixture of military occupation and survivor's guilt drives the introduction with social and emotional potency, but that cannot last. Someone has survived the outbreak, and she's carrying the rage virus that caused the Infected but not affected (like Typhoid Mary). In a scene of true horror that builds off the survivor's guilt and good, old-fashioned revenge, the virus returns. The military's solution: Code Red. The attempts to contain the virus include locking the entire population in an enclosed space, and the widespread spread of the virus is terrifying. Even more so, though, is the result: indiscriminately killing everyone—infected or not.
We had hints of such mayhem in the previous film, and Fresnadillo captures it here with such bloody, vicious immediacy, these scenes hold a lot of power. Alas, after that, the film moves into familiar terrain, with Andy, Tammy, Scarlet, and Doyle trying to reach Millennium Stadium where a helicopter waits. See, Andy might have a genetic predisposition as a carrier for the virus, so his life is more important than any of theirs. From here on out, the film loses its nerve, tying action sequence after action sequence together with people walking in between. It's effective stuff, mind you, but it just doesn't have the visceral and thematic impact of what has come before it. The sight of masses of Infected is still chilling, but they're set aside for faceless army men carrying out their orders to eradicate the population. Instead, we're given one Infected as the focus, and while his existence brings up a very Freudian gimmick in that he has memory and seems to be hunting down those he loves, it's underdeveloped enough to just be odd. The action works well, though. Helicopter blades are used to devastating effect, chemical weapons force the survivors into a car for shelter (it doesn't start, natch), and one scene in the Underground is seen entirely through a night-vision scope.
My expectations were higher than this after the frightening prologue and the intriguing and haunting first act, though, but the script (by Fresnadillo, Rowan Joffe, Jesús Olmo, and E.L. Lavigne) confines its premise into a fairly standard action-horror amalgamation. Fresnadillo is yet another director to watch (this is his second feature film), and he manages thrills out of the weaker sections 28 Weeks Later, which should be a completely unnecessary sequel as a whole in the first place. If only it hadn't settled.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.