Thursday, October 04, 2007
Movie Review - 28 Weeks Later (2007)
This by the numbers sequel to Danny Boyle’s genre reinvigorating outing, 28 Days Later, is a mix of good and bad. I found myself delighted with some scenes, and completely disappointed with others. Whereas conflicting emotions or impressions are something to be strived for in the case of some films; cinematic schizophrenia – as is the case here - is not.
And that’s how I felt watching this. It felt like I was watching two movies, neither of which the director could decide on – so he just did both.
The plot revolves around the – obvious – 28 weeks after the Rage Virus has been unleashed on an unsuspecting England. Within a few weeks of the initial outbreak all of the infected have died of starvation, and the US military has moved in at the behest of the UN to restore order and begin the resettlement of England.
The actual film starts during the initial Rage infection with the characters of Alice and Donald Harris(played by Catherine McCormack and the always kick ass Robert Carlyle).They are holed up in a farmhouse in the English countryside with other survivors, trying to survive in a world gone mad. Their refuge is compromised, however, by the appearance of a small boy who brings with him scores of raving, psychotic, Rage-infected cannibals. In a heart-wrenching scene, Donald runs in terror, leaving his wife to die at the hands of the infected.
The film fast-forwards to the return to England of Donald’s children, Tammy and Andy (played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton. And yes. I’m serious. Those are their names. Seriously.). During the initial outbreak, they had been on a class trip to the continent and now are returning to find their father in charge of maintenance at the secure base where the US Army has started to settle the survivors. Donald lies to them, telling them that their mother is dead and that he could do nothing to save her.
In a strange turn of events, their mother is not dead. She is found and, due to a strange genetic anomaly shared by her son, she has been infected - but not afflicted - by the virus. She is a carrier and it is only a matter of time before the virus is re-released and the terror starts all over again.
When I’d said I had conflicting feelings about this film, it’s important to realize how much I enjoyed 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle’s original movie was an instant zombie classic and it was largely responsible for the resurgence in popularity of zombie films in the early part of the decade. It showed studios that zombies were a viable moneymaker and, as a result, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) was green lighted. In fact, if not for 28 Days Later, the great George Romero would not have been given the go ahead for Land of the Dead. So, with that being said, it’s important to look at 28 Days Later in the context of what it was responsible for.
In addition to that, it was just a great concept.
I am not a zombie purist. I don’t believe that all zombies should be shambling, mindless shells. 28 Days Later showed how absolutely scary running zombies could be. (And yes – I know that the infected in these movies weren’t zombies. And yes I know they were alive, so you can shut the fuck up. They were zombies, just not like we were used to seeing. Look at it in the context of what they did FOR zombie flicks.) The Night of the Living Dead 1990 version illustrated how slow, shambling zombies weren’t as much of a challenge to evade.
Running, unstoppable zombies – now that’s some scary shit!
Additionally, the best part about the Rage Virus was that it lent some actual reality to the genre. The dead coming back from the deadbecause of voodoo, contamination by particles from space, or a cracked container of Trioxin are completely fictional. A virus that drives people insane, cannibalistic, and fills them with unimaginable rage is different. That’s something that could be sitting in some government lab right now! Chilling and creepy!
And it is all of these things, when combined with the precedent set by 28 Days Later, that makes 28 Weeks Later a lesser film. 28 Days Later gave a glimpse into how unadulterated rage impacts a country that is, culturally, very reserved. And not that I’m trying to paint Brits with a large, stereotypical brush; but the loss of control the Rage virus represented was anathema to English emotional reserve. And Boyle showed that with the despair his characters felt.
Not so in this film.
28 Weeks Later is, at its heart, an action film that just happens to take place in London. When you take a country that has little – if any – personal gun ownership, and drop in US Special Forces with AR15’s, 1911’s, and Chey-tac .50 caliber sniper rifles; you lose some of the impact.
Also, the original had an intellectual quality to it that touched on things like animal rights, the social implications of a catastrophe on a national psyche, and the existential meaning of being human; this movie was all about waiting for the next trite action sequence, or thinly veiled swipe at the US military and the current state of US foreign policy (which I’m okay with to some extent. Quite honestly, we’ve gotten ourselves into our current political and military shitstorm, so it's our own fault. Just don’t beat me over the head with it.)
Oddly enough, I felt that I’d seen this film before. And that is because it had many of the same anti-government, anti-military themes we’ve seen a hundred times before. The closest amalgam to this I can think of would be George Romero’s little known film, The Crazies. In fact, 28 Weeks Later was close enough to Romero’s film in plot, story, and social commentary regarding the military/industrial complex that I would be willing to lay money that director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo had to have watched it prior to filming this.
So, what were the bright spots in this film? The brightest was Robert Carlyle, who has yet to disappoint me in any role he’s taken. The terrifying opening scene where he is forced to leave his wife, and then runs in utter horror and panic from the overwhelming onslaughts of Ragers was absolutely brilliant. This opening scene was so well done in fact, that the rest of the movie could only try – and fail miserably– to live up to it. What I enjoy about any Robert Carlyle performance is the expressiveness of his eyes. No other actor out there can convey so much horror, anger, pain, or despair with only their eyes. And his character Donald is a study in guilt and sorrow.
Additionally, the scenes where the Army gasses the streets of London where beautifully rendered, but they too were not as effective as the original films scenes of a deserted London, or horses running in a field.
So, in the final analysis, it’s unfair to say that I didn’t enjoy the movie. But, much like I said the other day when looking at the Resident Evil series, the horror of this film took a back seat to the action. In that respect, and looking at it as an action film, I enjoyed the movie. But the sequel pales in comparison to its predecessor and doesn’t really add to the story, which is what I was looking for it to do. As is so unfortunately common, it had the feel of a big studio sequel that ignored what made the independent original so great. It lacked a compelling story and what little story there was dwarfed by the need to get to the action and let the infection spread again. It became less about the human qualities of the characters and more about the really cool CGI effects.
Sadly, I will probably not own this. There is little, if any, reason to motivate me to purchase a inferior sequel that even a director’s cut can’t fix. Perhaps if Boyle had taken the reigns instead of simply producing, it would have been a better movie… but sadly that didn’t happen.
And that kind of sucks…
So, skip it at the theater (if its still there…) and wait for a DVD rental. You’ll watch it once, say, “Meh. It was okay,” and then just as quickly forget about it.
Doctor Zombie’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Chomped Brains!!!