“What if it [The Rage Virus] comes back again?”–Major Scarlett
“We kill it.”–General Stone
The geopolitical allegory is biting (no pun intended!), bleak and[mordant. A U.S.-led NATO force enters an England transformed by the “Rage Virus” into an empty, ravaged wasteland. The victims of the virus have all died of starvation, the infected bodies have been disposed of, and it appears the man-made pestilence has run its course. The military, now operating from a safe Green Zone, has brought in 15,000 refugees to repopulate the British Isles.
Alas, nothing exists in a vacuum, and in spite of the sleek sanctuaries, surveillance cameras, vigilant snipers, firepower and hi-tech security smarts, chaos lies in wait. The occupation forces – faced with a horrific viral resurgence and an inability, in a pinch, to distinguish “The Friendlies” from the rabid, slavering brutes – loses control of the situation which quickly turns into a quagmire of escalating horror, violence, and death. Sound familiar?
Even if 28 WEEKS LATER does tip its hat to current events, the chilling reverberations of the movie’s social commentary is actually secondary to director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s singular feat of crafting a sequel that is nearly as accomplished as the original 28 DAYS LATER (helmed by Danny Boyle, who is on board as producer this time). Clocking in at a speedy and relatively trim 99 minutes, 28 WEEKS LATER is a compelling entry in the Apocalypse Cinema Sweepstakes, scoring as yet another frenetic, grieving meditation on the death throes of a civilization. Juggling themes such as cowardice, moral abrogation, selfless heroism, survival, government incompetence and hubris, Fresnadillo’s film (scripted by four writers, including the director himself) is more than just a bloody, kinetic zombie relay. Even so, horror buffs who are looking for no more than loads of gore are not likely to be disappointed.
28 WEEKS LATER is, if nothing else, a fairly affecting piece about Family. Germaine to that statement, the film’s prologue starts with a band of survivors holed up in a countryside manor (the ending of the first film). A married couple, Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), and four other people, attempt to ride out the catastrophe as they hide from “The Infected.” A young boy arrives with the plague hordes in tow, and in the ensuing chaos – a terrifying, masterfully-edited sequence of rapid-fire hand-held shots – Don abandons Alice to the attackers, manages to outrace the virus-infected zombies, and grabs a motor boat to make his way to the U.S.-held Green Zone. Don’s act of abandonment will have unforeseen future consequences.
Later, Don, now a maintenance (or “Section”) officer in the militarized safety zone, is reunited with his two children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), who had been sent out of the country by their parents. The kids want to know what happened to Mom, and Don gives his children a judiciously edited version of the truth (in other words, he lies). When the kids defy quarantine to go back to their old house for photos of their mother, they find Alice alive and hiding in the attic. Subsequently, the chief medical officer, Major Scarlett (Rose Byrne) discovers that Alice, though infected by the Rage Virus, is immune to its effects: she is a carrier who might carry the possibility of an antidote in her blood (this is a bit of a nod to CHILDREN OF MEN). When a misplaced act of contrition leads to a new outbreak of the virus, Scarlett and a sympathetic sniper, Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) try to save the kids (who might also be immune) from both The Infected and the army, who are now directed to enforce a “Code Red” plan to wipe out all remaining (non-occupation force) survivors.
This leads to what is without a doubt the film’s most potent, politically-charged scene, in which the army snipers, instructed to take out The Infected raging among the panic stricken refugees, start blasting into the crowd, trying to surgically remove the fleet-footed “zombies” (the speed of the disease’s turnover time is one of the nifty things about the original film’s conception: it takes less than a half-minute for force and law to come crashing down). In a short while, the chaos grows beyond their control, and the Green Zone’s General Stone (Idris Elba) upgrades the mission to Code Red, instructing the riflemen to take down everything that moves. The scope of the scene’s horror, waste and sadness seems so plugged into the current war in Iraq, that I kept expecting the film to cut away to a blond Fox Network talking-head talking about scheduled “surges” to bring the Rage Virus into check. It is probably the movie’s best moment, though the movie – as hi-charged as the running, snarling sickies – doesn’t make a misstep either in its action or bromides. The scene is a powerful summation of the horrors and atrocities that The Forces of Order can thrust upon those they are enjoined to protect when the veneer of that order starts to break down: the imposition of force always invites chaos.
The political jabs aside, the movie is, in its sum, less about drawing comparisons to The Iraq War, then delivering a ferocious, heart-thumping Survival Run that quickly limns a nation’s doom, snagging us as much via the finely drawn, sympathetic characters as the pace and cutting. Surprisingly, 28 WEEKS LATER, is touchingly, chillingly, Pro Family. One man’s (understandably) tragic moment of character failure, and subsequent desire for forgiveness, ultimately leads to his destruction, and insures that the only way he can reunite with his family, is through horror and death. The movie’s focus on one family, brings the apocalypse down to a human level, building to the only conclusion the film could truly reach. The shaky camera coda at the very end almost seems a little redundant: the movie could have ended with the helicopter ride over The English Channel. The first film’s sense of immediacy is nicely maintained by the contrast of the kids’ surrogate parent (Scarlett and Doyle)’s all-too-human efforts to save them, while real Dad (Don’s a cagey, resourceful zombie paterfamilias, capable of evading snipers and napalm strikes) dogs them in a combination of parental instinct and homicidal fury. Poor Don, riddled first by by guilt and then by a spirit-vanquishing contagion, just wants to see his kids.
28 WEEKS, while just as dismal in tone as Boyle’s film, is, much more fast-paced. Shorn of all those shots of Cillian Murphy wandering a deserted London, the story starts in turbo mode, builds tension within the sterile safety environ, goes into overdrive, and, in the main, never eases up. The use of shaky hand-held cameras to film The Infected attacks – a signature move since 28 DAYS LATER and the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake – may seem a bit over-used, but it still ratchets the suspense by giving us fleeting glimpses of the drooling, clawing, crimson-eyed marauders. Fresnadillo, whose first film, INTACTO, included a scene of blindfolded, hand-bound characters running through a forest to prove their worthiness to “The God of Luck” (Max von Sydow) sure knows how to film people running in mortal peril.
The visual effects by David Abbott and the digital crew convincingly portray a London bereft of human habitation. Enrique Chediak’s cinematography burnishes every scene, whether it’s a sudden burst of sunlight, bright as a solar flare, into a dark and boarded up haven, or the impersonal menace of flame-thrower-wielding soldiers materializing out of the white haze of a gas attack.
The performances are more than solid. Byrne and Renner are warm, likeable, human, and heroic, and even The Kids are great: there’s no Cute Factor in this film.
The occasional splashy, whigged-out sequence aside (there is a helicopter monster mow-down that apes the GRINDHOUSE “Planet Terror” ‘copter slaughter), the horror and the “Got Ya!” moments succeed when they’re presented on a more scaled-down and intimate level. The movie’s most terrifying scene, Don’s infection through Alice’s kiss of forgiveness, goes from the relief of reconciliation, to surprise, to grief, to violent horror – the emotions sold by the intimate staging and by composer John Murphy’s mournful scoring. There is real pathos in the way this flawed but caring man (Carlyle gives a nuanced, conflicted performance) has his soul destroyed in mere seconds.
The movie also offers a nail-biting suspense piece as the kids and Byrne make a pitch-dark subway journey, shot from the point of Byrne using Doyle’s sniper-scope to guide her charges through tunnels filled with decomposing corpses. While the scene is more than a little derivative of a similar sequence in THE DESCENT, it provides the chills and expected payoff. Maybe the defining, prophetic moment of impending societal collapse is neatly encapsulated at the start when the refugees, taking a tram to their new hermetically sealed haven, are reassured of its security and creature comforts by the cheery female U.S. soldier acting as tour guide. She tells them The Green Zone has a general store, canteen, and “even a pub” to the nervous laughter of the folks on board.
You know right then, that Doomsday is on the rise.
The DVD is in English 5.1, with Dolby English, French, and Spanish Surround. Bonus features include deleted scenes, featurettes, and audio commentary by Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and co-scripter E. L. Lavigne.
The Deleted Scenes include:
- THE CANTEEN (Scene 29). This fleshes out an earlier (silent), passed over encounter between Don, Andy and Tammy and Major Scarlett within the Green Zone’s canteen. The scene, cut by Fresnadillo because it was a “stop in the rhythm,” doesn’t add much to the overall story.
- ANDY’S DREAM (Scene 166/167), is a fantasy sequence set in the subway near the end, in which Andy, having been attacked by Don, flees his sister and imagines meeting his mother on a subway train.
Other bonus features include:
- THE INFECTED: Inter-cut with (mainly humorous) interviews with members of the cast, and “Movement Advisor” Paul Kasey, this behind-the-scenes segment showcases the preparation, training, make-up for the extras playing the victims of the Rage Virus. Commentary by Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Catherine McCormack, Robert Carlyle, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleston, Idris Elba, and Costume director Jane Petrie.
- GETTING INTO THE ACTION: This includes various action shots and commentary by members of the cast as well as Producer Andrew MacDonald and Co-Producer Danny Boyle, the director of 28 DAYS LATER. Boyle was actually injured filming some 2nd-unit footage, which included the film’s opening scenes, with the attack on the country manor and Don’s escape.
28 WEEKS LATER(Fox Atomic , 2007). Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Written by Rowan Joffee, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, E. L.. Lavigne, Jesus Olmo. Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots.