28 Weeks Later

dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
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Gee, I wonder what flick this is a follow-up to?

Danny Boyle doesn’t return to helm this sequel, but I’m sure he made some money out of it as an executive producer. As such I’m sure he’s not too disappointed with how it turned out, but I’m sure he would have done it quite differently.

Instead of Boyle and his usual crew, it gets a bunch of other writers, and the Spanish director of a superb flick from a bunch of years ago called Intacto. I loved Intacto (a strange flick about luck as a power, as a curse) so much that I expected 28 Weeks Later to be some kind of masterpiece as well.

As it stands, this flick is passable entertainment, I’d say. They keep the location, and the story (a rage virus spreads throughout Britain making most of the population go berserk and kill each other), but saddle it with a pretty simple (some might say almost stupid) plot in order to gain some kind of currency with world events.

World events like the present Iraq Adventure, I guess.

With most of the population gone, our story occurs several months after the initial outbreak kills off most of the UK population. I don’t know if the Royal Family got out in time, but we can only hope. It seems like around 99 per cent of the population is either gone or dead. Also dead are the ravenous infected who’ve had nothing to feast on for months and have died of starvation.

At the very beginning of the flick we see a couple, Don and Alice (Robbie Carlyle and Catherine McCormack) hiding out in a cottage along with some other mugs around the time of the initial outbreak. The windows and doors are all boarded up, so we can presume that they know about the infected roaming the countryside. When the ravenous horde attacks, Don decides that cowardice is the solution to all life’s problems, and abandons his wife to her fate.

Lucky for their children’s sake, they were on school holidays overseas at the time. In the present timeline, six months down the track, the US military is overseeing the gradual re-population of Britain, and the steady maintenance of quarantine procedures in case the virus surfaces again.

In case you’ve not seen or heard anything about these flicks previous, whilst the film bears thematic compatibility with the zombie genre, the virus itself doesn’t make its victims shamble about moaning for brains. The infected become crazed within seconds of contracting the virus, and, spraying blood everywhere the whole time, hungrily and angrily chase down uninfected in order to bite and/or tear them apart with their bare hands.

Don’s in the so-called Green Zone on the Isle of Dogs in the heart of London, and when his children Tammy and Andy (Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Muggleton) are repatriated, they maintain the illusion of rebuilding their lives for at least a few seconds.

The American forces run a tight ship and are keenly aware of the stakes involved, so they have a heavily armed presence observing the guinea pigs, I mean, humans in their care. It’s a strange situation, and I’m not sure how sensible or how plausible the whole set up is. Perhaps I can imagine a place where whatever US Administration decides unilaterally to ‘take over’ Britain in order to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading to the States. But, all the same, there aren’t a lot of sensible reasons behind the set up.

What we get for it is a whole lot of American soldiers walking around with guns and sniper rifles waiting for the inevitable to occur. Of course the virus is going to break out again. Without it there’s no flick. The question is how and when.

The how of it arises, ironically, out of sentimentality. A child’s desire to get a photo of his dead mother, a husband’s kiss are all that is needed to get the killing to start.

The military have a plan in place called Code: Red, which is the default plan for what to do if there is an outbreak. It’s a pretty stupid plan, as it rapidly escalates from containment to genocide in the space of a few minutes. It then becomes incumbent upon them to kill everyone who isn’t wearing the uniform, and in some cases, even if they're wearing it.

Some of the military guys and girls strive to help at least a few of the civilians escape. Without them there’s not much to look forward to. All the same, In contrast to the earlier film, it’s hard to give much of a rat’s arse as to what happens to any of the characters.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I want the little tykes to die at the hands and teeth of the infected. It’s just that this flick doesn’t do as good a job of getting me to feel the sheer desperation of the situation, which 28 Days later certainly did. The film’s first half conveyed the sheer horror of the situation, with the second showing that there’s something more to be afraid of than the infected themselves. Low budget, great Mogwai track, and decent characters.

Here it’s just people running from the infected and from the kill-crazy army. The people involved do a decent job, but this is still primarily an action film with a lot of shaky camerawork, with little room for character moments or any deeper themes.

Clearly there’s some sort of parallel being drawn with the US occupation of Iraq. It’s no coincidence that the place is called the Green Zone. It’s no coincidence that it’s American military forces in charge of the situation. When the shit hits the fan, the military tries to selectively kill the infected amidst the innocent, but eventually they can’t tell the difference between friend and foe, and start killing indiscriminately.

Yes, yes, very profound, very deep. And what’s the follow-up? What’s next after setting up such a dynamic?

Uh, lots of running and shit blowing up.

The underlying issue of Don’s guilt over abandoning his wife becomes a moot point really quickly. I never thought Robbie Carlyle would ever play a character that would scare me as much as his Begbie character from Trainspotting, but he manages to do that here. Still, scary as he is, there’s not really much for him to do.

It’s unfortunate that the generic nature of the script reminded me less of 28 Days Later, and reminded me far more of Land of the Dead and even the first Resident Evil flick. It’s not a positive comparison.

Though I’m disappointed, I wouldn’t write the flick off entirely. The bigger budget than the original allows them to do shots and set-pieces more along the lines of what Hollywood expects audiences demand for 28 etc. sequels. The shots of an empty London are still quite affecting, and the Mogwai theme from the first flick is used throughout as well. Australian actor Rose Byrne as a sympathetic army doctor and Jeremy Renner as a sympathetic sniper have some good moments together and apart. The blonde moppets playing the kids are all right, and they run well. The violence is pretty violent. The situation is pretty grim, and when everything goes bad, it really goes bad for all concerned. It’s definitely not a dull experience.

The film is clearly setting up for a sequel, which is clearly a bad idea. The law of diminishing returns should be nailgunned to the foreheads of the studio execs who will greenlight the third in the series.

And the film’s ultimate message: that sentimentality and compassion in such a situation could doom the rest of humanity, is a darkly ironic one, and one that brings a smile to my face.

6 times in which there’s no way Don should have had magic key access to the command headquarters (as compared to the building he was in charge of) out of 10

“Have you come in contact with the infected?” – we all do eventually, 28 Weeks Later