28 Weeks Later Review
In 28 Days Later..., a potent and highly infectious "rage virus" was accidentally released from a British laboratory. It spread like wildfire, turning people into rabid animals who attacked the uninfected, passing on the virus through their bites. Within a month, the British Isles had turned into an empty, quarantined wasteland.
Six months after the outbreak, the virus is declared dead. All the infected have starved to death and no new cases have been reported. The American military has set up a fenced and guarded safe zone on London's Isle of Dogs, where cynical grunts like Doyle (Jeremy Renner) and Flynn (Harold Perrineau) patrol the rooftops and army doctors like Scarlet (Rose Byrne) attend to the refugees who are being repatriated there.
Among the returning Brits are Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), two children who were abroad when the virus struck. They're re-united with their father, Don (Robert Carlyle) and the family is moved temporarily into a swanky Canary Wharf apartment. Don tells his kids that their mother (Catherine McCormack) was killed but, when the children make an unauthorised trip outside the safe zone, they find her in their old house, very much alive.
Boasting a bigger budget and a glossier look than its video-shot predecessor, 28 Weeks Later delivers what you'd expect from it - more of the same but on a larger scale. But while 28 Days Later... was a simple, highly effective zombie movie (I know, I know - they're not zombies!), the sequel stumbles over its loftier ambitions and fails to provide the suspense and scares you expect.
It starts well enough, with a chilling prologue set in the countryside during the plague. Robert Carlyle's character looks like he'll make an intriguing protagonist but once the action moves to Docklands - and here's the first of the film's major problems - Carlyle is sidelined and the plotline set up in the prologue is quickly dumped. Catherine McCormack, the only other interesting character, is also wasted.
The heroes turn out to be the three American soldiers, who don't have a personality between them, and the two children, who are played by a pair of posh-talking, blond, English stage school types who look as little like the offspring of Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack as any white children could. It's difficult to sympathise with any of these people, all the more so given the awful dialogue written for them.
28 Weeks Later could still have worked on some level if the "zombie" scenes, which make up most of the second half, were well done but Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) shoots the attacks in an ultra-fast-cutting, chaotic style that doesn't work at all. It distances you from the action at crucial moments, it takes much of the nasty fun out of the film and it renders many scenes incomprehensible. Sometimes you have to work out who survived and who died by auditing the people still standing afterwards.
There are some good moments - the sniper attack, the car that won't start, the tube escalator - but despite the increased gore, this isn't a fraction as scary as Danny Boyle's original or Zach Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead remake come to that. Maybe part of the problem is that there have been a lot of zombie movies since 28 Days Later... injected new life into the genre in 2002 and its innovations have been copied. There's nothing here we haven't seen before.
Another big liability is the plotting. Credibility goes straight out the window when the two kids escape from the heavily-policed safe zone by sneaking over a bridge. Even harder to believe is the way the rage virus is unleashed inside the walls of the compound. However, the last straw is the way the "zombies" pop up all over London in the last half hour. Ask yourself how many could have been infected in the locked-down safe zone and how many of those could have escaped the final stage of the "code red"? And more pertinently, how do they manage to be in the exact same parts of city as the heroes? Even in the bowels of a tube station?
The treatment of the American military is especially stupid. No doubt the film-makers want to comment on the US occupation of Iraq but wouldn't that have been better done by paralleling what's actually happening there - ie: by showing an ill-planned military occupation failing its mission and unintentionally making things worse? Instead the US army are portrayed as mindlessly evil authority figures like the Umbrella Corporation in the Resident Evil films, prepared to exterminate everyone at the slightest sign of trouble.
What exactly is the army's motive for exterminating everyone? I can understand why they order the snipers to fire indiscriminately on a mixed crowd of zombies and civilians but why do they try to kill obvious survivors? Why do they send a gunship after an escaping car? If they care so little about British civilians, why set up a safe zone for them in the first place? For that matter, what kind of muppets would want to return to a plague-ravaged country a mere six months later? How can anyone be sure the virus is dead when the corpses of the infected still litter the streets? Wouldn't the army have thought a little harder about how to keep it out and how to contain an outbreak?
The film's best assets are its beautiful photography by Enrique Chediak and its excellent use of London locations - I'm guessing there were a lot of early Sunday morning shoots to film these places empty. Londoners will get a kick out of seeing some of the city's landmarks overrun by the infected and turned into battlegrounds and those who live and work in Docklands will appreciate its ultimate fate.