It's not often I wait for a movie with bated breath. Sure, there was Dawn of the Dead. And maybe Batman Begins. OK, there was 300, too. Stop me when I make a point. Seriously, when I heard my all-time favorite movie would spawn a sequel, I about pooped my pants. Then I got all stopped up when I heard Danny Boyle wouldn't reprise his directorial role. But my digestive system righted itself when I heard these duties would go to another European, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Surely, I thought, a European would get it right, without the trappings and sappy sensibilities I've come to expect from Hollywood.
And boy, I wasn't disappointed. In the week or two leading up to the release, the reviews started coming in. The comparisons turned favorably to the Aliens trilogy, my co-co-favorite with Planet of the Apes and now 28 Time Periods Later. My buddy Brian and I, therefore, bought tickets to the earliest matinee on opening day and sat down in an empty theater on Friday morning and put up with three Regal Theaters First Looks before starting on our new adventure.
SPOILER ALERT! Though I will try not to ruin the viewing experience for any moviegoer, I can't guarantee that significant events won't slip into my review. Proceed at your own risk.
The movie starts out calmly enough. It is 28 days after the original Rage virus outbreak. Don and his wife are holed up. Existence is mean and spare. The peace is shattered by the screams of a child desperate to get in. He is being chased by the Infected (yes, with a capital I, now that they are a movie trademark). Against their better judgement, the group lets the child in. The poop hits the fan, much biting and pummeling ensue, and the first act ends with one of the most startling acts to come out of any mainstream movie in recent years.
After a quick recap of the first months of contamination, quarantine, and "eradication," the scene turns to Don's kids Andy and Tammy. The American (of course) army entered Britain and leads the clean-up of the island. The Infected have all starved to death. Time for a Rage Zombie note-to-self: "Must remember to eat before the inevitable 28 Months Later."
Great Britain has begun the process of reclaiming itself, and Andy and Tammy are sent to repopulate the country, starting with the "safe zone" on the Isle of Dogs. "Safe zone" my arse! Poop! But I get ahead of myself. Eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the zone is considered safe not because the outside world is teeming with the Infected, but instead because the rest of the country is rife with rats, wild dogs and disease.
The hopeful, tentative siblings are examined by the military in a scene which drops a clue as to the eventual problem and perhaps solution that the movie's cast will face. Andy and Tammy are reunited with their father from the first scene. He survived the initial attack and earned a significant role in the rebuilding effort. What follows are some uncomfortable moments, during which the dad is reminded (at least inwardly) that his actions have consequences, that his act of desperation will not soon stop haunting him.
During this time, the action, if you could call it that, turns to Lieutenant Doyle, an American soldier who spends his time monitoring the repopulation, while spying on the new inhabitants (more foreshadowing). Meanwhile, Scarlet the doctor whines unnecessarily and persistently about reintroducing children into the country.
And this is where my first major criticism of the movie begins. In Days, the slow moments serve to introduce the moviegoer to the minds and motives of the cast. You start to feel for the characters, you invest in the dire predicament in which this catastrophe has placed them and the sense of hopelessness with which this plague has infected them. In Weeks, the slow moments offer little more than dry description and exposition, serving only to awkwardly shove the action forward.
This fault underscores the difference between the two films, which share this property with the transition from Alien to Aliens. In the first two chapters of that trilogy, you had to accept fairly quickly the genre shift from horror to action/adventure. Accept this shift before going to see Weeks.
In a fit of predictable if not heartfelt sentimentality, Andy and Tammy escape, hoping to recover some small tokens of their former life, but ultimately setting the course for the rest of the movie. The Rage virus reenters the safe zone and escalates the adrenaline factor of the movie. The military predictably moves their protection from containment to eradication. In this, Weeks shares a marked distrust of authority in general, and of the military specifically, with its predecessor.
While I, with my liberal blue-state political leanings, share in this distrust, my friend Brian (first mentioned in the first paragraph of this review) offered a quite reasonable explanation for the actions of the military, explaining that in the face of absolute (and I mean absolute) chaos, the military is trained to contain a situation, no matter how difficult. It is significant in this light that one soldier's dereliction of duty provides one of the few instances of emotional connection.
Once the Rage virus is reintroduced, the adrenaline, action, and general ick factor of the film rise exponentially. The audience is treated to some disturbingly claustrophobic, genuinely poop-inducing material that resonates with the best that this movie's predecessor had to offer. Andy, Tammy, Scarlet and Doyle's stories unite and they form this film's moral core, the family into which Jim, Selina, Frank and Hannah invited us in Days. The rest of the film unfolds in the efforts to get Andy and Tammy to safety.
A bit too long in, we finally arrive at the same place where Days had us almost at "hello." And this is where I started to enjoy the film most. Once I had characters about which I could give a flying poop, I wanted the story to last forever. I would have been satisfied, hell, I would have never experienced an instant of boredom. My greatest regret with Weeks was the real story started just a little bit too late.
Once you find characters with which you can emphasize, you see them dropping like flies. (This is one of the spoilers I warned you about.) You're not given enough time to develop a significant bond with the characters before they become fodder for the Infected, or more insultingly the military.
The action progresses towards its conclusion at breakneck speed, with a gratifying ending reminiscent of Zack Snyder's nihilistic ending to the remade Dawn of the Dead. Just remember, no one is safe! If it appears as if this synopsis ends suddenly, it's because the resolutions of the stories of each character in Weeks end just a bit too quickly as well.
While the movie goes to lengths to explain and describe each character's background, it doesn't do quite enough to get you emotionally invested in these characters and their eventual outcomes. The film spends so much time describing and explaining that it falls just a little short of making you care about what will eventually happen.
28 Weeks Later falls short of the artistry of the first film, 28 Days Later. While Danny Boyle virtually wallowed in the cinematography, symbolism and beauty of his indy-arthouse-film-within-a-horror-movie, Fresnadillo instead settles for the all too familiar Hollywood formula of exposition and heavy-handed foreshadowing.
That said, I still really enjoyed this movie. I just wish there had been more of it. More ick, more gore, more thumbs-plunged-in-eyes sugary goodness. I wish that less time had been spent on dry explanation and more on the breakneck pace absolutely necessary for an admittedly genre movie in an unfortunately impatient market.
I was gratified by 28 Weeks Later's number two place (did you catch that stealth poop reference?) to Spider-Man 3, but for the inevitable 28 Months Later to attract any attention, viewers will need to remember how icky the icky was, how gory the gore was.
It's hard enough for zombie fans out there; let's make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot (or chew it off). I would give my rectum for the zombie genre to survive. Despite my criticism, this movie is integral to the zombie genre. Let's just not make it any harder for the undead (or in this case, the Infected) to live on.
By the way, kudos to Fox Atomic for publishing 28 Days Later: The Aftermath. This graphic novel provides crucial insight into the genesis and repercussions of the Rage virus.