28 Weeks Later
2007Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Jeremy Renner
ith 28 Days Later Danny Boyle redefined the zombie horror genre. With 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo takes a few steps back. Think of it as the Day of the Dead to what could be considered Boyle’s Dawn of the Dead. To that extent, I suppose it could be far worse; it could more closely resemble Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. So let’s count what meager blessings we have. Still, somewhat dishearteningly, 28 Weeks Later manages to find its way into many of the same pitfalls that Romero fell victim to in his disastrous third installment of the Dead series—the characters come off as flat and fairly annoying, the plot is needlessly complicated, and the story attempts to cover for a lack of compelling storyline by amplifying the violence tenfold from the first film. Pity, since the opening moments of this lackluster sequel deliver on the promise of a truly fitting follow-up.
One of the charms of Boyle’s film was the way it cleverly avoided many of the tropes of the genre, focusing more on the humanity of the survivors (the same formula worked just as effectively in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). Fresnadillo takes advantage of a number of those intriguing elements established in the first film, but fails to expand upon them in any sort of meaningful way. He adds a few nice touches of his own here and there—a scene involving snipers attempting to pick off zombies while discerning between the infected and innocent works quite nicely—but ultimately we find Fresnadillo cannot successfully merge Boyle’s ideas with his own and instead chooses to fall back on too many of the clichés prevalent in past zombie films.
Yet, before the film stumbles to its dismal conclusion, it does a fine job of getting things going with a stunning prologue that picks off where the first film left off in terms of character development. Robert Carlyle’s presence as Don, the tragic would-be hero of the film, adds a human touch to the early parts of the narrative as we find him and his wife holed up during the initial epidemic in an isolated cottage somewhere in England. If we’ve learned anything from films in this vein, the peace that comes with isolation from a diseased society cannot last. So, when the infected finally break into their stronghold, the tranquility of their perfect lives is quickly shattered.
We quickly ascertain from the heightened violence of this opening slaughter that Fresnadillo, unlike Boyle, is willing to push the limits of the actual brutality of the situation, going for the jugular on some of the more gruesome kills in the film. It made me worry that his focus on the technical side would force his film to lean more toward manufacturing scares rather than generating sympathy for the victims as did Boyle. For the prologue at least, my fears were allayed.
When Don must choose between saving himself and saving his wife, the story takes a truly compelling turn as he leaves her behind. It builds perfectly to the sequence in which we witness him running through a field, tears streaming down his face as he’s pursued by thousands of “rage” infected people. After the credits roll and the emotional impact of this scene settles in, I began to anticipate what route Fresnadillo might select to develop after this stunning spectacle, especially considering the intrigue of exploring Don’s guilt concerning his loathsome actions after his children—who sought refuge in the States during the first outbreak—return to Britain to find their mother dead.
Unfortunately for Fresnadillo—but mostly for those members of the audience expecting something halfway classy—he chooses to abandon this enticing story in favor of dwelling upon a jumbled mess of intertwining narratives that take place during the post-epidemic rebuilding of Britain up through the second outbreak of the disease. When he finally returns to this aspect of the story—Don’s guilt, that is—it comes in the most unsatisfying of ways.
This anemic narrative and disappointing failure to pursue the emotional volatility of the film’s beginning caused me to drift away and dwell upon other aspects that would have probably seemed irrelevant in any other context. For instance, I realize that the filmmakers wanted some consistency in the titles of the two movies, but if you ask me, 7 months seems slightly premature to significantly repopulate an area only recently ravaged by a virus of such terrible proportions. Then again, not much of the containment policy implemented by the U.S. military seems all that sound. And one more thing we can all learn from this film: when dealing with a viral infection that reacts quickly and causes those afflicted to transform into flesh-eating lunatics, it’s probably best not to tuck away all remaining survivors in an underground facility and not bother to check if the area is secure. Also, when and if a civilian carrying the virus turns up, another good idea would be to limit access to the infected solely to those personnel with the utmost authority to deal with the situation. Former loved ones who might attempt to trade fluids with the diseased probably shouldn’t have that kind of privilege.
But I’m being a little harsh here. For what it’s worth, the film remains intermittently effective. If we look beyond the drama of the story and simply take it for the horror/thriller it resigns itself to be, we find that at times it demonstrates a firm grasp of the material, orchestrating lively action sequences and unsettling moments of horrific tension. Taken independently from its predecessor, its formulaic approach would be far more excusable, so chalk up some of the criticism here to heightened expectations. As a cut-and-dry horror film, it’s fairly adequate and should achieve its goal of creeping you out for an evening. But as some sort of political statement or attempt at elevated, dignified horror, it’s pretty much lifeless.
28 Weeks Later is currently playing in wide release.