In this worthy follow-up to Danny Boyle’s deliriously entertaining 28 Days Later, a tentative peace has settled upon Britain. The virus that, in the first film, transformed the nation’s people into blood-crazed zombies appears to have been wiped out; no new case has been reported for months. A part of London is set aside by the U.S. Army as a quarantined safe zone for plague survivors so that they can re-enter the city, and try to resume something like normal lives within the hyper-alert and germ-free military state. Into this bio-fortified environment, stationed with heavily-armed soldiers, writer-director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, and his co-writers Rowan Joffe, Jesús Olmo, Enrique López Lavigne, introduce a rogue: A carrier of the Rage Virus, the haggard Alice (Catherine McCormack) who shows no symptoms of her illness, but capable of infecting others. The flip-side, though, is that her immunity could point the way for the U.S. Army researchers to finding a vaccine.
Whatever hope Alice’s presence does raise among the medical staff, though, disintegrates in a maelstrom of blood, flesh, and much screaming, as the woman quickly infects the locals. If you’re familiar with the first film, you know that this virus has virtually no incubation period — it acts a bit like wild sex without the foreplay — and almost instantaneously renders its victims into gluttonous predators. That said, the safe zone is soon reduced to massacre and mayhem as soldiers are ordered to hunt down and indiscriminately kill the safe-zone’s occupants. Navigating this landscape of trigger-happy soldiers and blood-crazed zombies are Alice’s children — Tammy and Andy (Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton). As Army medic (Rose Byrne), and soldier (Jeremy Renner) join ranks to protect the children — who could’ve inherited their mother’s immunity — and get them out of the country, 28 Weeks Later begins thematically recall last year’s Children of Men in which Clive Owen’s beleagured Everyman tried to shunt a mother-child pair out of a similarly hostile, apolcalyptic environment. What also resonates is the underlying and powerful sense of metaphor: The asinine logic of combating a virus becomes a poignant stand-in for our own nonsensical War on Terror — both fights in which the real enemy resides within, not without.
Coincidence or not, the visual aesthetic and energy of Fresnadillo’s film bears a striking resemblance to Cuarón’s — both use a pallette of dull and desaturated colors, as if the colors itself were weary of the worlds they’re inhabiting. Fresnadillo’s camerawork, like that in Children of Men, is jittery, so restless and panicky, in fact, that you think it might burst forth from the screen. It’s the director’s deft and sylish hand with this material that makes 28 Weeks such a refreshing jolt, plying a genre routinely deadened by sub-par slasher-fests. The exhilaration evident in the smartly-cut action sequences, the glances at pathos in the sequences of loss, betrayal, guilt, and abandonment underscore Fresnadillo’s considerable directorial powers; the man is taking his job seriously and at full-steam, never condescending to it. And we benefit from that as an audience, and, I’ve no doubt, Fresnadillo will benefit career-wise.
The performances are suitably intense. Robert Carlyle turns in dramatically the most riveting, playing the children’s father, haunted by feelings of guilt and cowardice after abandoning his family in order to save his own life. Poots and Mackintosh are both game for the punishing frights their characters are put through. And Byrne and Renner, as the only trustworthy adults in the whole picture, make for a plucky and resourceful pair. Too bad, then, and this is the movie’s most serious flaw, that Fresnadillo and company’s script dispenses with its characters so summarily. All too easily, characters are picked off, violently yanked from the narrative before they’ve had the chance to fully develop — this is in contrast to Psycho, a film famous for eliminating a key character, which took time to carefully delineate said character before she stepped foot inside that notorious shower. What Fresnadillo and company so carefully create in 28 Weeks’ first half shows signs of rapidly and sloppily unraveling in the second as slaughter becomes indiscriminate, and staged for cleverness rather than for story — as our compact group races towards asylum, indeed, towards a forced climax that feels abrupt, and designed to accomodate yet another sequel. Considering the general quality of this film and its predecessor, though, this is one critic game for another go.
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Written by: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Jesús Olmo, Enrique López Lavigne
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Amanda Walker, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Rose Byrne, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton