Movie Review: 28 Weeks Later
By Shane Jenkins
May 21, 2007
Zombie movies, more so than, say, slasher or possessed-ventriloquist-dummy films, seem to carry the burden of conscience on their lumbering, decaying shoulders. George Romero, often credited with creating the zombie genre, threw a hodge-podge of social relevance into 1968's Night of the Living Dead, ranging from the Cold War to racism in the '60s. That movie's sequel, Dawn of the Dead, took on consumerism, and the recent Land of the Dead tackled class differences (rather shakily) and the Iraq war. 2002's terrific 28 Days Later not only created a new zombie archetype, it also had something to say about AIDS and an overzealous military.
So it's not really surprising that the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, takes on the current war in Iraq; the original was pretty much heading that way. What is surprising, though, is the sheer vitriol coursing through its veins. This is a much darker, much bleaker film than its predecessor, lacking even that movie's very occasional sliver of mood-lightening. 28 Weeks Later isn't very interested in letting you have a good time. Rather, it wants to wring you out, and you're either the type who will enjoy this or not.
Me? Totally enjoyed it. After a fantastic beginning, soaked with shaky-cam violence, 28 Weeks Later settles down for a bit to introduce its plot. After the outbreak chronicled in the first film, the rage-infected "zombies" have starved to death, and London has been quarantined off to protect its citizens from any more attacks from the outside. There's a great scene where the people being admitted back into the city are told of how life is getting back to normal in the destroyed city. "There's even running water," they are informed. Their faces light up, and it's a grim reminder of just how quickly the things we take for granted can vanish.
We are introduced to two children, who will become the primary focus of this film. Tammy, the older sister, and Andy, the youngest person in London at 12-years-old, are the children of Doyle (Robert Carlyle), a maintenance worker who survived that bloody opening scene. Their mother was apparently not so lucky, and the kids escape from the quarantined area to their old house, so Andy can have a picture to remember her by. They find more than a picture, though, and this is where the film takes off.
One of the pleasures of 28 Days Later was the convincingly deserted streets of London. Cillian Murphy wandered around the city in a daze, and it felt like he was the only one there. This film even exceeds that. The filmmakers have done an amazing job at making London look and feel like an abandoned theme park. After a while, you stop even thinking about how they managed to pull the effect off. These kids are the only ones there. When a military helicopter breaks this dream-like state, it's truly startling, because we've bought this illusion so fully.
Of course the virus breaks out again; there's not much of a movie if it doesn't. But the way it does (which I will leave you to discover) is kind of brilliant. It will make you look at one of the film's great posters again in a new light. The U.S.-led NATO operation, initially assigned to protect, gets a new assignment, and, like in the first film, our heroes are at the mercy of two types of monsters.
The Iraq parallels are unmistakable, and it would be easy to say 28 Weeks Later has a nasty anti-American streak. But in a big picture kind of way, the military actions at least are believable. Plus, we get two American heroes - a soldier and a military doctor - who take it upon themselves to protect the children. Because these aren't your average everyday kids. They're special, and special enough to disobey orders and risk some lives.
The action, once it gets going, never really lets up, and there are some great set pieces here. A scene with night-vision goggles replicates some of the chills that the ending of Silence of the Lambs stirred up. And there's a nightmarish scene on the subway. Plus a dread-inducing chase scene at the beginning. This is, in nearly every way, an effective follow-up to Danny Boyle's original.
It's not perfect, of course. This is already shaping up to be the Summer of Contrivances, with Spiderman 3's coincidence-a-minute screenplay, and now this, which has a few tough-to-shrug-off plot holes and unbelievable elements. One of the infected does not seem to follow the rules that the movie has set out for them. The character shows up repeatedly to menace our heroes, and, while this is particularly disturbing, it's not really plausible (and yes, I know I'm using the word "plausible" in reference to a zombie movie, but this particular franchise strives for , and mostly achieves, plausibility). The children's escape from a city full of lookout guards likewise requires some suspension of disbelief, and I'm not completely sold on one character's change of heart at the end.
Still, this is much better than I would have guessed months ago when I first heard they were making a sequel without Boyle and Murphy. That smelled like Dumb and Dumberer to me, but Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has made a worthy successor to both Boyle's film and the zombie canon in general. It's not a typical "fun night out," which, when I think about people seeing Wild Hogs, is what I imagine they are saying to each other right before they crank up the Norah Jones in their Escalades. No, this is an assault in the guise of a summer popcorn film, and will almost certainly be the ballsiest sequel of this very sequel-y season.