We join our review of the 28 tetralogy already in progress, with 28 Weeks Later. Stay tuned for the in-depth look at the classic ending pair of movies, 28 Months Later and 28 Years Later. Rumors of a Danny Boyle penned capstone, 28 Decades Later, have been repeatedly denied, though speculation continues about the possible far-future epic that takes the Rage virus into interstellar space.
Laura: So, we learned at the end of 28 Days Later that zombie lifespans are not infinite. That, eventually, the "infected" die off, presumably never to return. You are probably wondering then what happens 28 weeks later: Zombie Resurrection? Son of the Infected? Land of the Zombie Apocalypse Messiah?
Richard: First and last, I want to make it clear that this is not a zombie movie. It's not a movie about zombies.
Andrew: Point taken. But who are you?
Laura: Who is who?
Andrew: Point taken.
Laura: Yes, well, anyway . . .
Andrew: Right. Anyway, the zombies --
Richard: They are not zombies! They are humans infected by a virus, okay!
Laura: Just like we're infected by you. Who --
Andrew: Calm down, you two. Richard does have a point. Whoever he is.
In the first movie it was pretty clear that the Rage virus didn't make you inhuman, but only crazy, like rabies, and allowed the infected to push their body to the nth degree. The infected were faster than humans because they didn't get tired. They sprinted until their bodies ran out of energy to burn.
However, in the sequel the infected tend to be indistinguishable from people. Except for the red eyes and the foaming at the mouth and the desire to bite others. They're slower than in the first film. In one scene the military guarding the recolonizing British civilians can't tell the infected from the people they're trying to protect. And, yes, they also are more zombified. Sorry, Richard. There's a scene where an infected with a large chunk taken out of his torso is still walking. Dead man walking equals zombie.
Laura: What's exciting about the ahem zombie film (and I must admit that it's my favorite kind of horror flick) is not the zombies themselves but what those zombies do to human communities. Zombies allow for fascinating social and political commentary. What will the fear of death drive you to do? What will the fear of global annihilation drive governments to do? Ultimately, all zombie films worth their salt suggest that the danger of death is absolutely nothing next to the horrors that humans will perpetrate while trying to escape from death.
Andrew: In this case, those horrors follow the tale of one family: Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) who were in Britain when the outbreak occurred, and their children Tammy (Imogen Poots) (who wins the Silliest Name award) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) (an escapee from J. K. Rowling's private compound). There's a short prologue that focuses on Don and Alice, and then we travel to the future (The FUTURE!) where, twenty-eight weeks later, Tammy and Andy are being repatriated to Britain.
Laura: Danny Boyle knows his zombie films, and what I loved about 28 Days Later was not only the fun of the fast-zombie development but his respectful attitude toward the great work that has been done in the zombie genre. He used his zombies as a way to investigate human communities and their frailty; the little that it takes to push people into a dense, dark psychological landscape from which they cannot escape whole. The horror, indeed.
The most chilling scenes of that film, for me, had nothing to do with zombies. They were of men, only cut off from civilization for a couple weeks, willing to rape a young girl to "continue the species." And in 28 Weeks Later (directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, not Boyle) we see the chilling effects of cowardice and fear; and even the chilling effects of our best intentions, when divorced from common sense.
The film has a lot of relevant social (mainly military) commentary. London has been taken over by a NATO force led by the U.S. Army as they attempt to clean up the city and facilitate the return of civilian residents. Once the outbreak breaks out again, they run into a lot of problems that our own militaries have to deal with: how do you distinguish civilians from combatants, and under what circumstances should you try to, and under what circumstances should you shoot everything that moves? How much "collateral damage" is worth it to preserve control and the safety of the larger world? Is it ever acceptable to not follow orders, and what criteria enable you to decide that? It turns out that fighting zombies in an urban environment is not terribly unlike fighting "insurgents"; it's guerilla warfare, and the civilians and combatants look a lot alike: at least from a distance. The film is also in love with military technology: bombs, guns, helicopters, you name it. If you've been waiting, heart in mouth, to see what a fire-bombed London would look like, this is your chance.
The film ultimately comes down on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. The US Army, in all its bureaucratic, impersonal glory, is the hero of the film. If it doesn't all ultimately end well, it's because of short-sightedness on the part of some people: people who either fail to anticipate possible outcomes out of cowardice, or people who fail to anticipate those outcomes out of good intentions without a lick of common sense behind them.
Lesson: If the US Army quarantines your town, listen to them. Even if they want to put you in a line and shoot you.
Andrew: I don't think it's that simple. (Well, except for the lesson) What this movie presents us with, when all systems are go, is a series of hard choices. These choices rarely have an obviously right answer, or a good outcome. In fact, every choice that seems to be in line with what most people would call morality ends up creating a worse problem than existed before. The other options aren't any better since they involve becoming almost as bad as the Rage victims.
Lesson: If it's between dying valiantly with others, or abandoning them to survive, choose the latter. But own up to it.
Laura: The film is highly enjoyable and well done, especially if you're a fan of the zombie flick. That said, I don't think it's as good as 28 Days Later, perhaps because the sheen of the fast zombie has rubbed off a bit. And because when it comes to social/ political commentary in a zombie film, my standard is George Romero: and this film, good as it is, is no Day of the Dead or Dawn of the Dead . Day of the Dead, with it's military compound, would be the obvious comparison. And that film had most of the same military commentary to make, but with gore and special effects that still stand out as amazing, creative, and over the top. 28 Weeks Later is perfectly adequate, even solid, in the gore department, but it lacks the ingenuity Savini brought to Day of the Dead. No one's head is ripped from his body while that head is still screaming.
If I had to guess a reason for this, it'd be that 28 Weeks Later takes itself much too seriously to indulge in special effects theatrics -- at least of the bodily variety. We do get a lot of bombs and shooting, but the close-up dismemberment zombie action isn't really there. Personally, I'll go see Die Hard if I want buildings to blow up. In a zombie film, I'm looking for dismemberment.
Andrew: Although, for me, the problem is not the dismemberment or explosions, but the fact that the movie, once Rage again enters the world, follows a normal horror/action formula. The movie works like Romero's Land of the Dead, except that even there the movie manages to have plot points expanded on and worked out once the zombies are loose in the city. 28 Days Later nicely alternated awe and silence with action and noise, and those slow moments gave the audience a chance to rest and consider the ways life had changed with the virus. The shopping and picnic scene are perfect examples of this.
In 28 Weeks Later the action never stops once it starts. Well, that's not exactly true, since the prologue breeds true to the pace of the first movie, and that just whets the appetite (No, not for blood) for a story that's going to deal with the psychological and emotional consequences of the situation.
And that prologue that focuses on Don and Alice's attempt to survive the initial infection is the most moving element of the entire film. In line with the soldiers' behavior in the first film, the way that people interact and react to an infected invasion in this film creates real drama.
Frankly, when the movie turned to focus on the attempt to recolonize London, I was hoping that the Rage virus wouldn't reappear and that, instead, we'd be treated to an examination of living in and rebuilding a devastated country. The interaction between the NATO force and the returning British citizens is tense and fraught with interesting questions that never get explored, mainly because the movie turns to standard, cliché zombie action. Sans most of the gore.
Laura: As far as I'm concerned, this decision on Fresnadillo's part will keep 28 Weeks Later from my top five zombie flicks: though it would make my top ten. Because you can have both: the social commentary and the innovative gore. In a zombie film, you need both.
If you separate them, it's like having steak tartar without the raw, dripping blood sauce. And, as fans of Waxwork know, the sauce makes the dish.
Laura Eldred's rating: 8/10
Andrew Kozma's rating: 8/10