Zombies should lumber. There, I said it. Not that moldy old subgenres don’t need revitalizing every once in a while, but certain elements endure because they just plain work, and so it is with the rotting, dead-eyed corpse that shuffles after you one horribly implacable step at a time. When Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later kicked off the zombie chic phenomenon four years ago, I found myself underwhelmed by its frenetic, turbocharged conception of the undead—seemed to me you could get the same mundane, blood-drenched jolt from a movie about London being overrun by rabid dogs. Where was the dread, the nightmarish sense of delayed inevitability?
Needless to say, that quality is also absent from 28 Weeks Later, the inevitable sequel, in which the infected still look as if they’re all competing in the 100-meter dash ’n’ chomp. But Boyle has wisely passed the reins to the young Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, whose nifty feature debut, Intacto (2001), was a small triumph of foreboding atmosphere. Bearing the burden of audience expectation, 28 Weeks Later is a comparatively blunt and prosaic instrument, possessing little of Intacto’s quiet elegance and mystery. Nonetheless, it’s superior to Days in almost every way: smarter, scarier, more trenchant, more poignant.
Opening in medias res during the outbreak depicted in the original film, Weeks wastes no time in first creating and then compromising our loyalty. No sooner have we been introduced to married survivors Don (Robert Carlyle, still best known as Begbie in Trainspotting) and Alice (Braveheart’s Catherine McCormack), holed up with several others in a rustic cottage, then we’re watching our ostensible hero, whose adrenal glands are much keener on flight than fight, callously abandon his wife to the hordes who’ve just forced their way inside. Seven months pass, if I remember my multiplication tables. The epidemic, successfully contained, is now over. (Ha.) Civilians slowly return to what remains of London, now under military jurisdiction; among the first wave of resettlers is our cowardly buddy Don, who’s been reunited with his two young children, Andy and Tammy. Naturally, they want to know what became of Mum.
More than that, I wouldn’t dream of revealing. Suffice it to say that Fresnadillo and his three co-writers, having deftly introduced this crippling spectre of guilt, proceed to simultaneously honor and torpedo any assumptions we may have formed about the direction of the narrative. The rage virus returns, of course, as do the requisite flash cuts of teeth cutting skin and eyes widening in panic—controlled chaos that Fresnadillo pushes to the brink of dizzy abstraction. As in South Korea’s The Host, however, the true monster here is the peacekeeping presence of the U.S. military, which responds to the crisis by indiscriminately mowing down anything not in fatigues. Believe me, I’m as weary as you are of knee-jerk allusions to Iraq—that was me groaning aloud in pain at the random Abu Ghraib imagery in Children of Men—but Weeks earns its outrage, which permeates the film to its core rather than being worn like an armband. That the hero of the third act is a disgusted AWOL sniper (Jeremy Renner) only complicates matters.
Still, no horror movie gets by on the strength of its subtext alone. Credit Fresnadillo for continually finding new and innovative ways of creeping us out, from a lengthy sequence shot through a night-vision rifle scope—you can tell the actors genuinely can’t see where they’re going—to the unexpected lyricism of one character’s post-transformation onslaught. The film does falter a bit in the home stretch, for reasons I can’t get into without spoiling stuff, and I wish the two child actors were even half as colorful as their real names—it’s hard to believe kids called Mackintosh Muggleton (as Andy) and Imogen Poots (as Tammy) exist outside of Hogwarts. But if you want a suitably gory, harrowing picture of the ordeal awaiting those on the ground following a mission allegedly accomplished, 28 Weeks Later has the rundown.
28 Weeks Later
Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo