Sunday 16 September 2007

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Sunday 16 September 2007
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Writers: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez-Lavigne, Rowan Joffe & Jesús Olmo

Cast: Robert Carlyle (Donald Harris), Jeremy Renner (Sergeant Doyle), Rose Byrne (Major Scarlett Ross), Idris Elba (Brigadier General Stone), Catherine McCormack (Alice Harris), Harold Perrineau (Flynn), Imogen Poots (Tammy Harris), Mackintosh Muggleton (Andy Harris), Shahid Ahmed (Jacob), Emily Beecham (Karen), Garfield Morgan (Geoff) & Amanda Walker (Sally)

28 weeks after a lethal virus was unleashed in Britain, turning the population into violent thugs, the US Army helps repopulate London…

Danny Boyle's original movie, 28 Days Later (2002), is considered the catalyst that brought "zombie films" back into vogue; leading to George Romero continuing his saga with Land Of The Dead (2005), Zack Snyder remaking Dawn Of The Dead (2004) and Edgar Wright to poke fun at them all with Shaun Of The Dead (2004).

Okay, I know; 28 Days Later was released four months after Resident Evil, but Boyle's film is the one that made everyone sit up and take notice… despite not technically being a "zombie movie", anyway!

Boyle steps down to become an executive producer, securing the talent of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) to continue his story "twenty eight weeks later" -- although the Spaniard's sequel begins with a flashback to Days' era, with a group of characters facing a raging, mindlessly violent population…

Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) is introduced as Don Harris, holed up in a secured cottage with his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) and some other survivors. A savage attack from "the infected" quickly ensues, leading cowardly Don to abandon his wife and friends, to make his escape in a nearby motor boat...

From there we jump forward to the eponymous time, to find the UK a wasteland under the command of the US military. Don's teenaged children, daughter Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), have arrived back from a holiday abroad, and are now part of a program to repopulate London in the soldier-patrolled safety of "District 1".

Immediately, the vibe behind Fresnadillo's sequel is clear: this is all allegory for Iraq, which is also under foreign occupation by American forces. The infected can even be seen as the Baghdad insurgent's who kill coalition troops, so it all gives 28 Weeks Later an air of intelligence behind its splatter-movie premise.

Fresnadillo undoubtedly has a charged, smooth, tense style, although his rapid-fire editing can be slightly disorientating. The budget increase from 28 Days Later, means Fresnadillo can indulge himself with some grand pyrotechnics (a fire-bombing of London) and nifty stunts (a US chopper justifying its name), but it also retains the original's gritty, low-budget style that worked so brilliantly to throw audiences into the mayhem

While it's true such movies are more frightening and enjoyable during the initial "outbreak" of panic, as we watch everyday life slip into pandemonium, this sequel easily justifies its existence. The after-effects of the Rage virus weeks are interesting, while the idea of repopulating a devastated city is plausible and unique.

The characters in 28 Weeks Later are trying to contain the situation (lucky the UK's an island!), but clearly they won't have much success, once Don's children discover their mother survived her "fatal attack" and is somehow carrying the virus without turning into a sociopath…

Robert Carlyle is great as Don, particularly in the tense opening scene and whilst trying to keep the ugly truth from his kids. Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton o carry much of the film's first half, and they do a decent job, although both become a little useless by the end. Catherine McCormack is excellent as the Harris family's infected mother, which is no mean feat as she spends most of the time strapped to a bed!

At the midway point, the American characters take a more prominent in the film, trying to contain London once a new outbreak begins from within the uninfected zone. Its here the film's true message comes through: chaos breeds chaos. Rose Byrne is good as Major Scarlet, while Jeremy Renner is engaging as protective Sergeant Doyle, but none of the characters are able to rise above the events carrying them along.

28 Weeks Later is also curiously short, resulting in a focused and fast-moving film, but one that loses that sense of escalation. Once things happen, it happens fast. Before you can blink, London is being carpet-bombed, people are being slashed in two by rotor blades and soldiers are indiscriminately shooting into crowds of screaming people!

There's also the faintly ridiculous use of Don as a "boogieman" to contend with throughout the film, and a subplot about the Harris kids being the key to curing the virus. But, while Fresnadillo is technically gifted and does a great job directing, the script he co-wrote with Enrique Lopez-Lavigne, Rowan Joffe and Jesús Olmo isn’t as complex or involving as it initially seems.

Overall, 28 Weeks Later is a worthy sequel to Boyle's original; one that trumps its forbearer technically, but not quite emotionally. London as a ghost town looks remarkable, there are plenty of harrowing moments, strong acting and great effects work -- but its narrative becomes hollow once the body count piles up.

The door is left open for another sequel (28 Months Later?), but while Fresnadillo's story of aftermath, occupation and family break-up makes for a good follow-up, I don't envy the next guy in the director's chair.

Fox Atomic
99 minutes