By Andrew Kasch
In a year of non-stop disappointments, who could’ve guessed that the film to deliver the goods would be a big studio sequel to a low budget indie foreign flick? Yet, here it is with the arrival of 28 Weeks Later…
The original 28 Days Later was a stylish and intelligent film that gave a welcome focus on characters while re-inventing the whole zombie movie aesthetic. It was far from perfect with a plot that rehashed George Romero’s Dead series (complete with third act Rhodes and Bub clones), but it was still a major achievement in the realm of indie horror. The film’s anti-climax didn’t exactly cry out for a sequel, but you can thank the movie gods that we got one anyway. Ready for another shocker? 28 Weeks Later is a bloodier, scarier, and arguably better film than the original. Much like Dawn of the Dead or Aliens, this is the very model of what a sequel should be: a film that expands on the universe of the first without rehashing it.
The story picks up twenty-eight weeks (duh!) after the initial outbreak of the rage virus. All the infected have starved to death, and authorities have begun repopulating the cities. Survivors are screened through rigorous medical tests and herded into military “safe zones” in the heart of London, among them family man Don (Robert Carlyle) and his two children. No sooner do they settle into their new digs than a sudden outbreak of the virus finds its way back into the populace. The infected once again run rampant through the city streets so the panicked armed forces do the only thing they know — blow the shit out of everything in sight. It’s up to the ever-diminishing group of survivors to find a way out of the forbidden zone before they’re annihilated by either the new infected or the trigger-happy military.
What makes 28 Weeks Later so amazing is how it takes the time to establish atmosphere, exploring the survivors, their surroundings, and their new way of life. The ruined militarized streets of London perfectly set the tone, and when all hell finally breaks loose, it never lets up, bounding from one blistering scene to the next.
Fans worried about Danny Boyle’s absence from the director’s chair have nothing to fear. Along with a wicked visual eye, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo devises some of the most brilliantly scary set-pieces in recent memory, executing the horror with a malicious gusto rarely seen in films today. Even a particular gory action sequence, which we saw earlier this year in Robert Rodriguez’s segment of Grindhouse, is far more jaw-dropping here. Most of all, this director knows how to catch you off guard. When a group of characters run into a new scenario, it’s impossible to predict who will come out on the other side.
Another one of the director’s traits is a welcomed focus on sound design. Ambient noises and eerie bowel-shaking bass lines substitute for the usual shrieking musical stingers and bring a genuine sense of dread from the first frame. Whether it’s a scene of quiet drama or excessive splatter, every moment in 28 Weeks Later keeps you on edge thanks to inventive direction, solid performances, and uncanny attention to detail.
Admittedly, there are a few things this sequel doesn’t do quite as well. The characters aren’t as nuanced as the protagonists in 28 Days Later, and the traditional gritty shaky-cam approach can be incoherent at times; but with a movie this ambitious, it hardly detracts from the overall enjoyment. In a time when the end seems extremely fucking nigh for our genre, 28 Weeks Later delivers a visceral roller-coaster ride that pulls no punches. Hopefully we’ll get something of this caliber when the inevitable 28 Months Later rolls around.
4 out of 5