Posted on May 16, 2007 by Flames
In 2002, something strange happened to the horror movie business. Fox Searchlight Pictures released Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and like a viral plague its success spread through the industry inspiring a zombie film resurgence. The films released in its wake include the surprisingly good remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), the brilliant horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead (2004), Romero’s own fourth installment to the genre he created, Land of the Dead (2005), and of course, several direct-to-video efforts that were largely forgettable. 28 Days Later is arguably the most important movie to the zombie film subgenre since Day of the Dead came out 17 years earlier. And the reason this phenomenon was so strange is that 28 Days Later is not a zombie film. That’s right; not one single zombie to be found, but rather droves of virally infected cannibalistic lunatics.
What’s the difference?
Given the instant success of 28 Days Later and its money generating influence industry wide, it was to be expected that once the cinematic carnage had subsided, the entrails had dried up, and the dust had settled, we’d be treated to a second go around with the rage virus courtesy of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later.
Fresnadillo’s film begins with a prologue that takes place in the English countryside during the initial outbreak. Don (Robert Carlyle) abandons his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack), and in so doing he narrowly escapes a rampaging horde of infected people. We flash forward and learn that within the 28 weeks since the outbreak, plans have been put into motion to restore order. Great Britain is still empty and in shambles while the infected have starved to death. A NATO coalition led by U.S. forces has set up a Green Zone in a section of London to use as a base of operations and to house survivors and refugees who have been allowed to re-enter the country. The military’s main objectives are to clean up and to make sure the virus is in fact no longer present.
When siblings, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are reunited with their father, Don, who’s now working as a maintenance man in the Green Zone, he tells them a not-all-together truthful account of their mother’s fate. Soon the kids escape the Green Zone and head for home where they find their mother alive, but the military quickly finds and captures them all. Back at the Green Zone tests reveal that Mom is infected, but has not entirely succumbed to the virus. She’s a carrier, making her both the biggest hope and the biggest threat to everyone. Inevitably, Don finds Alice in the Green Zone hospital. Unaware of her infection, he kisses her which kicks off a second round of complete and absolute bloody chaos.
One way that 28 Weeks Later is an improvement over the original is its consistency. While Days is a very capable movie, it runs out of steam in the third act. Conversely, Weeks straps you into your chair and from start to finish it thrusts you at warp speed through a myriad of tense and uncomfortable situations.
Fresnadillo utilizes various types of conventions in order to elicit scares. There are several successful jump moments that get the blood pumping with considerable visceral force, as well as scenes that work psychologically by making use of creepy imagery and by playing on primal fears such as claustrophobia and fear of the dark. I found numerous scenes throughout the duration of the film satisfyingly difficult to endure.
Despite that both 28 Weeks Later and its predecessor are reluctant to be labeled as horror movies, there are enough innards and viscous red fluid on screen to make Elisabeth Bathory flinch. It’s nice to see a film take itself seriously while still providing the realistic splatter effects requisite of a premise such as this. The gore isn’t over the top, but it’s optimized for maximum effectiveness. The splatteriest highlight involves a helicopter, the pilot of which is sympathetic to our good guys, flying low over a field full of infected lunatics who happen to be chasing down these aforementioned good guys. Think twirling Ginsu. I’ll let you figure out the rest.
In what I can only guess was an attempt to help convey chaos through frenetic camera movement and quick cuts, the editing and cinematography left me annoyed and slightly motion sick as these methods are so over used they almost immediately become a detraction to otherwise rich and spooky shots.
However, several set pieces dramatically show the aftermath of the outbreak – the results of a plague so voracious and chaotic that nearly everything appears frozen in mid-evacuation, only completely lifeless. The shots of the city and the surrounding areas are disturbing in their starkness and packed with foreboding subtext, much like the opening scenes in Day of the Dead (1985).
Despite an intriguing premise, 28 Weeks Later loses focus at times. There is no clear protagonist, but rather several co-protagonists, none of whom wholly propel the plot forward. In large part I attribute this to the filmmakers’ desires to articulate the large scope of the movie’s main tension rather than isolating one character’s experience with that tension. The result is a thrilling, but slightly diluted story and an unnecessary distance between us and the characters. When it’s all said and done you’re not likely to lose sleep thinking about the movie hours after you’ve left the theatre, but while you’re watching it, your entertainment is all but guaranteed.
It’s clear that with regard to originality and innovation, the zombie film subgenre has run its course. While watching 28 Weeks Later, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen it all before. However, zombie movies are about big problems—a threat to the collective, the break down of society followed by the end of the world. That’s why they’ve been used in the past by Romero in particular, as canvasses on which to paint broad social commentary. For example, allusions to the Iraq war are not difficult to detect in 28 Weeks Later, and that’s why these movies resonate with people and remain successful. They capture real life problems, attitudes, and fears, and represent them in an exhilarating and fantastic context. 28 Weeks Later does not reinvent the zombie film wheel, but it does provide a wheel that spins as efficiently and as fast as anything that’s come before it, but with one major exception, of course.
There are no zombies.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Reviewer: Jason Thorson
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